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 ManchinJoe ManchinSunday shows preview: Senate healthcare debate heats up Zinke hits Dems for delaying Interior nominees Manchin faces primary challenge from the left MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSenate Dem undecided on 2018 reelection run Trump ‘regulatory czar’: Two-for-one rule can work Congress should just say no to more green energy handouts MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyLawmakers sport LSU gear at baseball game in honor of Scalise Senate votes to continue arming Saudis As Yemenis suffer the consequences Overnight Defense: Mattis defends Trump budget | Senate rejects effort to block Saudi deal | Boeing to cut 50 executive jobs 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP senator surprises top Dem with birthday cake 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 McConnellMitch McConnellGOP at decisive moment on Planned Parenthood Opioid crisis threatens GOP ObamaCare repeal Trump making calls to senators on healthcare bill 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 SchumerWarren cautions Dems against infighting FCC advances proposal to unmask blocked caller ID in threat cases Trump: Pelosi's leadership good for the GOP 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 MerkleyJeff MerkleyMerkley: Trump 'absolutely' tried to intimidate Comey Overnight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Dems urge Sessions to reject AT&T-Time Warner merger 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 FlakeJeff FlakeSenate should seek to retain its 'blue slip' tradition for judicial nominees Progressives target Heller and Flake on Senate GOP bill The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (Ariz.) and Dean HellerDean HellerGOP at decisive moment on Planned Parenthood Trump: ‘I cannot imagine’ GOP senators don’t back healthcare bill Bill Clinton issues warning on opioid crisis: ‘It’s going to eat us all alive’ 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 ObamaTrump breaks with tradition, forgoes Ramadan dinner Trump: 'Why no action' from Obama on Russian meddling? Dems look to defense bill to put pressure on Trump 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 DurbinDick DurbinSunday shows preview: Senate healthcare debate heats up Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Live coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill 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 McCainFrustrated Dems say Obama botched Russia response Coats: Trump seemed obsessed with Russia probe The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Ariz.) fired back: “Whoever said that is a stupid idiot.” 

Sen. Michael BennetMichael BennetDems step up attacks on GOP ObamaCare bill Trump welcomes Gorsuch on first Supreme Court visit Why higher education is in need of regulatory relief MORE (D-Colo.) also warned that without the need for 60 votes to break a filibuster, Trump might easily appoint Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsJustice Department developing strategies to shut down ‘sanctuary cities’: report Sally Yates slams Sessions on criminal justice reform Preet Bharara emailed DOJ about phone call from Trump: report 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.”