We The People: A nuclear future

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went “nuclear” to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and ignore any opposition from Democrats in the chamber.

What is the nuclear option? It’s a legislative rule that overturns the rules and precedent in the Senate so that the majority party can stop a filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee by reducing the 60 votes requirement for approval to 51 votes, or a simple majority.

McConnell filed for “cloture” on the Gorsuch nomination, which by rule invokes an automatic vote to halt debate in two days after Senate Democrats blocked a vote to end debate on nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch. Normal Senate procedure would still require 60 votes to stop debate.

The Republicans only have a 52-member majority plus four Democrats who joined them, which was shy of ending debate or filibuster. The nuclear option was when McConnell used the cloture vote to end debate and then called for the majority to change the requirement for a 60-member majority for Supreme Court nominations.

The showdown was inevitable considering the decades of increasing partisanship in Washington, D.C. While senators from both parties lament the development, they easily blame each other and take no responsibility or action to improve the situation.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “I know that in 20 or 30 or 40 years, we will sadly point to today as a turning point.” Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Democrats move to filibuster the Gorsuch vote was “unprecedented.” He smugly claimed, “We need to restore the norms and traditions to the Senate and get past this partisan filibuster.”

Nina Pillard, Patricia Millett and Caitlin Halligan are some of the Obama judicial nominees that Republicans blocked. Through other procedural maneuvers the Republicans filibustered and blocked many Obama nominees but this new rule ushers in the era of “no debate-just vote.”

This, the new Washington D.C., is where rules are changed for the majority. Senate Republicans already upended committee rules for other Trump nominees: Steven Mnuchin to be Secretary of the Treasury and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced the nominees with only Republican members present after the Republicans gathered and agreed to change the committee’s standing rules, which normally require at least one member of each party to be in attendance for committee work to proceed, to avoid Democratic opposition.

The nuclear option has now been deployed and new precedent is set for future nominations. The Senate voted 54-45 to confirm Gorsuch with McConnell promising that “He’s going to make the American people proud.” We can only hope to be so fortunate.

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