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  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th, speaks Tuesday at a rally in downtown Fort Wayne encouraging Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to vote in favor of confirming Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th, speaks Tuesday at a rally in downtown Fort Wayne encouraging Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to vote in favor of confirming Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 10:23 pm

Rokita calls on Donnelly to support Supreme Court nominee

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

Speakers at a Fort Wayne rally urging Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to support President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court included a federal lawmaker who might try to take Donnelly's job.

Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th, joined two dozen people Tuesday on a street corner across from the Anthony Wayne Building, where Donnelly has an office. The Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights, organized the demonstration.

Rokita called on Donnelly "to do the right thing" and vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch for a Supreme Court vacancy. Rokita said that because Trump, who promised to appoint a "pro-life" justice, carried Indiana by 19 percentage points in last year's presidential election, Donnelly "knows there is no question what the people of Indiana want; they want Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed. I hope Mr. Donnelly does that."

Unless Senate rules are changed, at least 60 votes are required to advance Gorsuch's nomination to a confirmation vote. Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the chamber, but Democratic senators remain unhappy that the GOP refused last year to conduct hearings or votes on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

Donnelly, who stands for re-election next year, has not disclosed how he might vote on Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge in Denver. Rokita indicated Tuesday that his decision on whether to seek the Republican nomination for Donnelly's seat would be influenced by the senator's vote.

Asked about speculation that he might run for Senate, Rokita said that Donnelly "has a quick decision to make as whether or not he's going to respect the will of the Indiana voters, and that's how I'm going to base my decision." 

Rokita is a former Indiana secretary of state who has represented west-central Indiana in the House since 2011. He and Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th, are believed to be prospective contenders for the GOP Senate nomination in 2018. 

Rokita mentioned that Donnelly voted recently against confirming Trump's nominees to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.

"So it's not a done deal at all that he will vote for Neil Gorsuch. ... The direction the people of this country want is a pro-life judge on that Supreme Court, and that's what I intend to get them," he said.

Donnelly's office referred The Journal Gazette to his Feb. 14 statement that he will review Gorsuch's judicial record and follow his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to begin March 20. 

Other speakers at Tuesday's rally included Cathie Humbarger, executive director of Allen County Right to Life, which opposes abortion rights. Humbarger delivered to Donnelly's local office petitions she said were signed by 2,000 people encouraging the senator to back Gorsuch.

"It is our hope that Senator Donnelly listens to the good people of Indiana," she said.

Standing in a steady drizzle at Clinton and Berry streets against the backdrop of the Allen County Courthouse, rally participants held signs stating "Senator Donnelly Confirm Gorsuch." A young child with the group held a sign stating "I vote pro-life."

Just north along he sidewalk of the same block, a dozen people gathered for a counter demonstration. Their signs stated "Support Choice," "Support Planned Parenthood" and "I Am a Woman Not a Womb."

Planned Parenthood "actually stops abortions by giving birth control to people – that's the way it works, if you want to stop abortion," Andrea Hamman said.

A group called Women's Liberation Movement Fort Wayne organized this demonstration.

"We want to be the voice of the majority, the voice of the majority of people in this country and in Fort Wayne that believe that we need a right to choice" for access to abortion and reproductive services, said Nicki Meier.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted this month found that 27 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all cases, 35 percent think it should be legal in most cases, 23 percent think it should be illegal in most cases and 11 percent think it should be illegal in all cases.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October found that 57 percent of people believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases and 39 percent believe it should be illegal in most or all cases.

bfrancisco@jg.net