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) ManchinPompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel Overnight Defense: House to begin work on defense policy bill | Panel to vote Monday on Pompeo | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump appeals decision blocking suspected combatant's transfer The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyGOP Senate candidates trade barbs in brutal Indiana primary Pompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo 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 renews complaints about History Channel Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos 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 senator: Democratic opposition to Pompeo 'driven 100 percent by politics' Pompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees 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 SchumerCan Mueller be more honest than his colleagues? Throwing some cold water on all of the Korean summit optimism House Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds 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 MerkleyOvernight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes 32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd 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 FlakePompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes Arizona GOP tinkers with election rules with an eye on McCain's seat MORE (Ariz.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerSenate GOP wary of new tax cut sequel GOP Senate hopefuls race to catch up with Dems Family, friends mourn death of Barbara Bush 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 ObamaNRATV host says Obama owes Parkland students an apology over shooting Paltry wage gains, rising deficits two key tax reform concerns Throwing some cold water on all of the Korean summit optimism 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 DurbinTo succeed in Syria, Democrats should not resist Trump policy Hannity, Kimmel, Farrow among Time's '100 Most Influential' The Hill's Morning Report: 200 Days to the Election 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 McCainRomney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination Trump considering pardon for boxing legend after call from Sylvester Stallone GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees MORE (R-Ariz.) fired back: “Whoever said that is a stupid idiot.” 

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Health Care: GOP pushes stiff work requirements for food stamps | Johnny Isakson opens up about family's tragic loss to opioids | Republicans refuse to back vulnerable Dem's opioids bill | Dems offer new public option plan Lawmakers discuss Latino education gap The Hill's Morning Report: Hannity drawn into Cohen legal 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 Sessions Trump to lawmakers pressing Sessions to investigate Comey and Clinton: 'Good luck with that' Five takeaways from Trump adding Giuliani Trump disputes report that he calls Sessions 'Mr. Magoo' 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.”