US Republicans have changed Senate procedural rules to confirm President Trump's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. Known as the 'nuclear option,' the rule change is likely to heighten partisanship.
US Republican Senators on Thursday triggered the so-called "nuclear option," rewriting the chamber's procedural rules to end a Democratic attempt to block confirmation of President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
The Senate voted 52-48 along party lines to end a longstanding practice requiring 60 out of 100 votes to overcome a procedural hurdle to advance to the final confirmation vote.
Democrats had been blocking the vote - a practice known as a filibuster - after they successfully lined up more than 40 senators against the Supreme Court nominee. Republicans triggered the "nuclear option" after they were only able to get 55 votes in favor of ending the filibuster.
"This will be the first, and last, partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Republican controlled Senate. "This is the latest escalation in the left's never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet, and it cannot and will not stand."
The move all but assures Gorsuch's confirmation in a schedule vote on Friday. A simple majority in the Senate is required to approve a Supreme Court nominee to a lifetime appointment.
Implementing the so-called nuclear option could set the stage for hyper-partisanship in the Senate. Some analysts argue it may even lead to ending the filibuster for normal legislation and completely change the way the Senate functions.
Although the filibuster is not enshrined in the Constitution, it has played an important role for the minority in Congress as a means to delay or block a vote. It will now be easier for a Supreme Court nominee to be confirmed if the Senate and presidency belong to the same party.
"In 20 or 30 or 40 years, we will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court, a day when we irrevocably moved further away from the principles our founders intended for these institutions: principles of bipartisanship, moderation and consensus," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Democrats criticized McConnell for saying the Democratic filibuster was an unprecedented attempt to block a Supreme Court nominee. Republicans refused to consider Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland during the last 11 months of the presidency, raising the level of partisanship in the Senate.
"The nuclear option was used by Senator McConnell when he stopped Merrick Garland. What we face today is the fallout," Democratic Senator Richard Durbin said on the Senate floor.
In 2013, when the Democrats had a majority, then Senate Majority leader Harry Reid used the nuclear option after Republicans blocked US President Barack Obama's nominees to an appellate court. But that decision excluded the Supreme Court.
At the time, McConnell said the Democrat's strategy would backfire.
"I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you will regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think."
Gorsuch's confirmation on Friday would restore a conservative 5-4 majority to the Supreme Court after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. With three of the top court's judges over the age 78, President Donald Trump said he hoped to stack the court with as many as four conservative judges during his term.
"In fact, under a certain scenario there could even be more than that," Trump said aboard Air Force One.
cw,dm/kl (AP, Reuters)