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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 McConnellMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Schumer: Fight for Senate is 'neck and neck' Nikki Haley powerfully rebuts Trump 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 ClintonConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Sen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue No, civility isn't optional 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 SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers 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 McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms 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 Mason ReidFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Major overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees 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 CoonsDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it 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.