GOP triggers 'nuclear option,' gutting filibuster in Gorsuch fight

Senate Republicans on Thursday voted to strip Democrats of the power to filibuster President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, invoking the so-called nuclear option.

Senators voted 52-48 along party lines to change the Senate’s precedent, lowering the threshold for advancing Neil Gorsuch from 60 votes to a simple majority.

They then immediately voted 55-45 to advance the nominee to a final confirmation vote, which is expected to happen Friday afternoon after thirty hours of more debate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) initiated the rules change by raising a point of order asserting that simple-majority votes should advance Supreme Court nominees to final confirmation votes.

Democrats tried to delay it by offering motions to postpone a vote and to adjourn the chamber, but both fell short as Republicans stayed unified.

Earlier Thursday, McConnell said the rules change would restore the Senate’s tradition of considering a Supreme Court nominee based on credentials instead of ideology.

He called the Democratic filibuster of Gorsuch “a radical move” and something “completely unprecedented in the history of our Senate.”

“This threatened filibuster cannot be allowed to succeed or to continue for the sake of the Senate, for the sake of the court and for the sake our country,” he said.

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McConnell accused Democrats of having steadily ratcheted up the “judicial wars” over the years and noted that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMueller’s probe doesn't end with a bang, but with a whimper Mark Mellman: History’s judgment Congress should massively ramp up funding for the NIH MORE’s pick for the court in 1993, once advocated for the abolishing Mother’s Day but was still confirmed by a 96-3 vote.

The American Bar Association rated Gorsuch as unanimously well-qualified, but Democrats criticized him for not revealing his personal judicial philosophy during confirmation as well as for several opinions they said showed he tended to favor powerful interests over “the little guy.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE (D-N.Y.) argued that Republicans didn’t have to change the rules to put Gorsuch on the court, and that the more sensible option would have been to ask Trump to pick a new nominee.

He said replacing Gorsuch would be fair after Republicans refused to give President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing or a vote last year.

Schumer accused Republicans of being primarily responsible for cranking up the partisanship of the Supreme Court.

“We believe the Republican Party has been far more aggressive in the escalation of tactics and in the selection of extreme judicial candidates, while Democrats have tended to select judges closer to the middle,” he said on the floor Thursday morning.

Schumer pointed out through a parliamentary inquiry that in 1968, Justice Abe Fortas withdrew his name from consideration for chief justice after a filibuster.

He also noted through the parliamentarian that the Senate confirmed 25 of the past 26 Supreme Court nominees either without a vote or with strong bipartisan majorities of more than 60 votes.

Senators on both sides lamented the escalation of partisan tactics over Gorsuch’s nomination and warned it would erode the fabric of the institution, which has traditionally protected the rights of the minority party.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) grumbled to reporters earlier in the week that whoever thought employing the nuclear option would make the Senate a better place is “a stupid idiot.”

But Republicans said they wanted to seat Gorsuch on the court no matter what it took, praising him as an eminently qualified judge who a decade ago would likely have won strong bipartisan support for confirmation.

Times of have changed since the Senate confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, to the court in 2005 with an overwhelming vote of 78-22.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) threatened to change the rules to strip Democrats of the power to filibuster judicial nominees.

Former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) at the time dubbed it the “nuclear option” because the notion of changing an important Senate precedent with a simple majority vote instead of 67 votes under regular order was viewed as a drastic escalation of tactics.

Frist held off from triggering it after a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of 14 struck a deal stating that judges should only be filibustered in “extraordinary circumstances.”

That deal held until 2013 when, frustrated by repeated GOP filibusters of President Obama’s nominees, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE (D-Nev.) employed the nuclear option to change the rules. Democrats voted along party lines to exempt executive branch and judicial nominees below the level of Supreme Court from filibusters.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate ethics panel wants details on sexual harassment allegations American innovation depends on strengthening patents Tax reform and innovation – good news and a cloud MORE (D-Del.) contacted former members of the Gang of 14 in a frantic effort to come up with another deal over the weekend, but he said the Senate has become significantly more partisan over the last decade. He said the change is due in part to the Republican and Democratic bases having become much more assertive and aggressive in lobbying the Senate.

- Updated at 12:56 p.m.