Senate Goes 'Nuclear.' Now, a Bigger Question

Will the filibuster die for regular legislation, too?
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2017 11:40 AM CDT
Updated Apr 6, 2017 2:02 PM CDT
Senate Triggers the 'Nuclear Option'
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters Tuesday.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Neither party budged, and now the "nuclear option" has been invoked in the Senate. Republicans on Thursday changed the chamber's rules to break the Democrats' filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, reports the AP. The change, allowing Republicans to end debate with a simple majority instead of 60 votes, paves the way for a final confirmation vote on Friday. The immediate effect is that Gorsuch is all but ensured of his seat on the court, while the longer-term implications are being hotly debated:

  • This rule change affects filibusters on judicial nominations, but what if filibusters were eventually curtailed on regular legislation, too? That would have far broader implications and make the Senate more like the House, explains the New York Times. While Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insists he'd never take this step, Democrats are skeptical.
  • Pressure could grow on Republicans to ditch the legislative filibuster if they struggle to get things passed, such as repeal of ObamaCare, notes the Daily Intelligencer.
  • So what just happened? Here's a primer on the "nuclear option" via the Wall Street Journal. The name came from former Sen. Trent Lott, who worried about the precedent of changing longstanding Senate rules.
  • Watch the moment McConnell made the move, via this video at the Washington Post.

  • One likely outcome of the move is that we can expect more ideological judges on the Supreme Court, leaning left or right depending on which party is in control, predicts NPR.
  • McConnell made the case that the Senate once gave greater leeway to presidents on Supreme Court picks and thus killing the filibuster is a return to tradition. John McCain, though he voted with party leaders, thinks it's dangerously unwise. The Washington Post looks at the differing views among senior Republicans.
  • McConnell was seen high-fiving after the move, while McCain grumbled, "Bad day for democracy," per Politico.
  • What's next? Democrats have a maximum of 30 hours to delay proceedings, and they're expected to make use of them all. Axios expects the vote on Gorsuch to come Friday evening.
  • The AP notes that Thursday's move has precedent: Democrat Harry Reid invoked the nuclear option in 2013 because Republicans were blocking lower-court judicial appointees of President Obama. Reid's move affected only that year's Congress and exempted Supreme Court nominees.
(Read more nuclear option stories.)

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