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By Kevin Daley
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell triggered the so-called “nuclear option” Thursday morning, ensuring Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
The procedural maneuvering necessary to break the Democratic filibuster started at 11:00 am Thursday morning, when a petition to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination was filed, which began in the chamber Tuesday.
The ensuing cloture vote, or vote to end debate and move the nomination, requires the support of 60 senators. Democrats marshaled enough support to sustain a filibuster on a 55-45 vote. Four Democratic senators including Sens. Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, Michael Bennet, and Heidi Heitkamp joined 51 Republicans to end debate, five short of the 60 votes necessary under normal rules. McConnell voted with Democrats for procedural purposes.
Thereafter, McConnell called a “point of order,” an objection provided in parliamentary rules, and called to end debate on the Gorsuch nomination, under the precedent set by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who abolished the filibuster for lower court nominees in 2013. That motion was denied by GOP Sen. Deb Fischer, who was acting as the Senate’s presiding officer, on the basis that it did not apply to Supreme Court nominations.
McConnell appealed the presiding officer’s decision, triggering the nuclear option.
A majority vote of the full Senate is required to overturn the presiding officer’s decision. The 52-48 vote followed party lines, and successfully broke the Democratic filibuster.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer attempted to delay the inevitable, at one point essentially giving a speech by lodging several parliamentary inquiries, forcing the presiding officer to confirm facts helpful to Democratic talking points connected to judicial confirmations.
Democrats held the floor for the extent of the morning before the final vote on the nuclear option. Schumer was the final member of the Democratic caucus to offer remarks before the nuclear option was invoked.
“Wherever we place the start of the this long, twilight battle over judicial confirmations, we are now at the end point,” he said.
“When the dust settles, make no mistake about it,” he added. “It is the Republicans who have changed the rules on Supreme Court nominations.”
Senate rules provide that 30 hours additional debate will take place before a final vote. Gorsuch is expected to be confirmed Friday evening.