Senate goes 'nuclear' to advance Trump Supreme Court pick

The Senate voted Thursday to move forward with Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination after Republicans took a historic step that lowers the vote threshold for high court nominees to a simple majority. 

Senators voted 55-45 to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination, setting up a final confirmation vote for Friday. Thanks to a procedural move that changed Senate rules earlier Thursday, a simple majority was needed to move forward.

Democrats had successfully blocked Gorsuch’s nomination from getting 60 votes earlier, prompting Republicans to employ the "nuclear option," which effectively ends filibusters for all Supreme Court nominees.

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

Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Wealthy outsiders threaten to shake up GOP Senate primaries MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (Ind.) voted with Republicans to allow President Trump’s pick to move forward. 

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Republicans defended the party-line vote on the nuclear option, saying Democrats were to blame for blocking Gorsuch, who they believe is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy MORE (R-Iowa) argued that Democrats should “come to their senses.” 

“The truth of the matter is that throughout this process, the minority led by their leader has been desperately searching for a justification for their preplanned filibuster,” he said ahead of Thursday’s votes. 

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.) added that the current stalemate was part of a decades-long Democratic effort to “politicize the courts and the confirmation process.” 

“The opposition to this particular nominee is more about the man that nominated him and the party he represents than the nominee himself,” he said. 

Republicans hinted for weeks that Trump’s nominee would be confirmed one way or another. McConnell confirmed during a leadership press conference that he had the votes to go nuclear if needed. 

Republicans appeared resigned to the tactics, arguing if Democrats won’t support Gorsuch — who received the American Bar Association’s highest rating — they won’t allow any GOP nominee to join the Supreme Court. 

But Democrats made a last-minute pledge for Republicans to back down and change the nominee, an argument that never gained traction with GOP senators.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” 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.) said. “When a nominee doesn’t get enough votes for confirmation the answer is not to change the rules, it’s to change the nominee.”

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Senate nixes provision boosting conservative college after uproar Overnight Energy: Panel advances controversial Trump nominee | Ex-coal boss Blankenship to run for Senate | Dem commissioner joins energy regulator MORE (D-Ore.) during an eleventh-hour press conference blasted the GOP tactics, saying it “is just wrong to pack the court through this stolen seat.” 

“That’s why it’s so important that we still in the few hours that we have left hopefully stop this really crime against the Constitution,” he said. 

Progressives groups also stepped up their attacks heading into Thursday’s vote, warning that Republicans will be to blame for going “nuclear.” 

The People’s Defense — a coalition of roughly a dozen progressive groups led by NARAL Pro-Choice America — released a digital ad campaign targeting Republicans in Arizona, Alaska, Maine, Nevada and South Carolina, warning them that “history if watching.” 

Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Sasse: RNC help for Roy Moore 'doesn't make any sense' Sasse calls RNC decision to resume support for Moore 'bad' and 'sad' MORE (Ariz.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDems look to use Moore against GOP Senate hearing shows Fed chair nominee acts the part Senate GOP votes to begin debate on tax bill MORE (Nev.), among those being targeted by outside groups, are Republicans' two most vulnerable incumbents. 

Schumer echoed that from the Senate floor on Thursday, saying that Republicans “had other choices. They’ve chosen this one.” 

“The responsibility for changing the rules will fall on Republicans and Leader McConnell’s shoulders,” he said. 

Democrats remain deeply bitter of Republicans treatment of Merrick Garland, whom former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Former Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report Eighth Franken accuser comes forward as Dems call for resignation MORE’s nominated to fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February 2016. GOP leaders refused to give Garland a hearing or a vote. 

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) argued that the current stalemate over the Supreme Court dates back Scalia’s death and “what we’re facing today is the fallout.” 

But the hardball tactics drew skepticism from both Republican and Democratic senators, who held around-the-clock negotiations to try to prevent the rule change but ultimately failed. 

Told that by a reporter that some people think the Senate will function better without the filibuster, 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.) fired back: “Whoever said that is a stupid idiot.” 

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Schumer downplays shutdown chances over DACA fight MORE (D-Colo.) also warned that without the need for 60 votes to break a filibuster, Trump might easily appoint Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE or EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to the Supreme Court in the future. 

“Partisanship should give way to patriotism,” said Bennet, who backed ending debate on Gorsuch's nomination earlier Thursday but voted against it in the second vote. "If we go down this road we will undermine the minorities ability to check this administration and all those who follow.”