Dems block cloture on Gorsuch, setting up Senate ‘nuclear’ vote

Democrats temporarily blocked Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation Thursday, setting up a “nuclear option” vote for later in the day. 

Senators voted 55-45 on ending debate over President Trump’s pick. Sixty votes were needed to break the Democratic blockade. 

Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampVirginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters Washington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinIRS data proves Trump tax cuts benefited middle, working-class Americans most Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems press drillers over methane leaks Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake MORE (W.Va.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetHickenlooper: Law preventing cannabis business banking 'a recipe for disaster' Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Sununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority MORE (Colo.) voted with Republicans to support Gorsuch on proceeding past the initial hurdle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden US could default within weeks absent action on debt limit: analysis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) voted no, a procedural move that will allow him to bring up Gorsuch's nomination. 

Many senators, who usually walk around the Senate floor or leave after they vote, stayed seated as they cast their votes from their desks — a usually reserved for only the most consequential votes. 

Forty-four Democrats and Independents announced ahead of time they would oppose ending debate on Gorsuch's nomination.

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Republicans are planning a vote later Thursday to remove the 60-vote threshold needed to proceed to a final vote on Supreme Court nominees, lowering it to a simple majority.

The historic change appeared inevitable as the parties spent Thursday morning blaming each other for the current stalemate.

McConnell blasted Democrats, arguing they were poised to carry out the “first successful partisan filibuster in American history." 

“It would be a radical move, something completely unprecedented in the history of our Senate, and out of all proportion to the eminently qualified judge who is actually before us,” he said.

Republicans have made veiled hints for weeks that they were prepared to go “nuclear" if Democrats blocked Gorsuch. McConnell confirmed during a leadership press conference that he had the votes to change the rules. 

Republicans appeared resigned to the tactic, 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. 

“It really is up to them and to how we should proceed. But one way or the other, we will confirm Judge Gorsuch,” said John CornynJohn CornynHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican. 

But Democrats stepped up their attacks leading to Thursday’s vote, arguing that instead of changing the Senate’s rules, Republicans should change the nominee. 

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Progressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan 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.” 

A handful of Democratic senators held an 11th-hour press conference with outside groups urging Republicans not to change the rules. 

“This is just wrong to pack the court through this stolen seat, and 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,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Lawmakers call on Olympic committee to press China on human rights abuses Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Ore.), who held a 15-hour protest from the Senate floor earlier this week. 

Democracy Spring held a protest in the Hart Senate Office building earlier Thursday, with some of the protesters being arrested. 

Liberal outside groups also released a flurry of last-minute ads targeting Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeRubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees Senate confirms Thomas Nides as US ambassador to Israel Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay MORE (Ariz.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerNevada becomes early Senate battleground Nevada governor Sisolak injured in car accident, released from hospital Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada MORE (Nev.) — the two most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2018 — as well as a coalition of moderate senators. 

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

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) also targeted Republicans up for reelection in 2018, including Flake, Heller and Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Texas), with newspaper ads, in addition to Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin — who are up for reelection in red states won by Trump.

But the hard-line Supreme Court tactics drew pushback from a handful of moderate senators, who were involved in last-minute talks to try to avoid the nuclear option. 

"I know many on the left think this filibuster is a great thing and are celebrating the opposition to Judge Gorsuch, but the reality is, looking forward, I think we are going to be looking at a Senate where the ability … to slow down any future highly partisan Supreme Court nominee will be less and less,” Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems seek to preserve climate provisions Democrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill  MORE (D-Del.) told NPR. 

Bennet warned from the Senate floor that unless senators avoid the “nuclear option,” Trump could nominate Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE or Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to the Supreme Court in the future. 

“Partisanship should give way to patriotism,” said Bennet, the only senator who hasn’t announced how he’ll vote on confirmation. 

"If we go down this road, we will undermine the minority's ability to check this administration and all those who follow."