"We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York
The Capitol in Washington is seen early Thursday, April 6, 2017. (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite), photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
10 months ago
WASHINGTON – Republicans invoked the "nuclear option" in the Senate Thursday, unilaterally rewriting the chamber's rules to allow President Donald Trump's nominee to ascend to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court filibusters have been nearly unheard of in the Senate, but the confrontation is playing out amid an explosive political atmosphere with liberal Democrats furious over the Trump presidency and Republicans desperate to get a win after months of chaos from Trump. Democrats also remain livid over McConnell's decision last year to deny consideration to then-President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, who was ignored for the better part of a year by Senate Republicans after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Instead, McConnell kept Scalia's seat open, a calculation that is now paying off hugely for Republicans and Trump, who will be able to claim the biggest victory of his presidency to date if Gorsuch is confirmed as expected. "We believe that what Republicans did to Merrick Garland was worse than a filibuster," Schumer said. "We didn't hear two words in the long speech of Senator McConnell: Merrick Garland." Emotions were running high ahead of the votes with raised voices on the floor where proceedings are normally sedate. All involved were keenly aware of the long-term implications of the proceedings, some of them hard to predict for the future of Trump's presidency and the 2018 midterm elections, when Republicans will be defending their slim 52-48 Senate majority and 10 vulnerable Democrats in states Trump won will be up for re-election. Senators on both sides of the aisle lamented the trajectory they were on toward the Senate rules change, though they themselves were in position to prevent it from happening and failed to do so. Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said roughly 10 senators of both parties worked over the weekend to come up with a deal to stave off the so-called "nuclear option," as the rules change is known, but couldn't come to agreement. In 2005, a bipartisan deal headed off GOP plans to remove the filibuster barrier for lower-court nominees, but in 2013 Democrats took the step, leaving the filibuster in place only for Supreme Court justices. And now it too is gone. For now the filibuster barrier on legislation will remain, though many fear it could be the next to go. https://youtu.be/Vp73lnWDQD8 "I fear that someday we will regret what we are about to do. In fact, I am confident we will," said Sen. John McCain, Republican-Arizona. "It is imperative we have a functioning Senate where the rights of the minority are protected regardless of which party is in power at the time." Nonetheless, McCain voted with McConnell on the rules change, saying he felt he had no choice. Gorsuch now counts 55 supporters in the Senate: the 52 Republicans, along with three moderate Democrats from states that Trump won last November — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. A fourth Senate Democrat, Michael Bennet from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado, has said he will not join in the filibuster against Gorsuch but has not said how he will vote on confirmation.
Judge Gorsuch was unable to earn 60 votes. Now the GOP is about to change Senate rules to allow all SCOTUS noms to pass by majority vote.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) April 6, 2017