Senate GOP goes 'nuclear' to advance Gorsuch vote - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Senate GOP goes 'nuclear' to advance Gorsuch vote

Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch gestures as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch gestures as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-KY, changed Senate rules to get Neil Gorsuch to a vote. (Source: CNN) Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-KY, changed Senate rules to get Neil Gorsuch to a vote. (Source: CNN)
Neil Gorsuch swears before the Senate during his confirmation hearings. (Source: CNN) Neil Gorsuch swears before the Senate during his confirmation hearings. (Source: CNN)

(RNN) – Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican senators enacted the so-called “nuclear option” on Thursday to sidestep a Democratic filibuster and ensure confirmation for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

The rule change lowered the vote requirement for ending debate on Supreme Court picks from 60 to 51, a majority of the 100-seat Senate. Republicans control the Senate, 52-48, and the rule change was approved by that margin.

All Senate-approved presidential appointments will follow this rule in the future. Gorsuch's confirmation vote is expected Friday.

Earlier, three Democrats voted with the 52 Republicans to advance Gorsuch's nomination for a vote, falling short of the 60 needed to override the filibuster. McConnell voted against, in order to bring the issue back to the floor.

With the filibuster removed, the second vote to end debate also ended 55-45, with McConnell voting in favor and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado switching his vote to "no."

"Our Democratic colleagues appear poised to block this incredible nominee with the first successful partisan filibuster in American history," McConnell said before the vote. "It would be a radical move. Something completely unprecedented in the history of our Senate, and out of all proportion to the imminently qualified judge who's actually before us."

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, employed a number of parliamentary procedures to delay the decision, but his attempt joined a number of other futile efforts Democrats tried to stop Gorsuch's nomination throughout the week.

"When a nominee doesn't get enough votes for confirmation, the answer is not to change the rules. It's to change the nominee," Schumer said.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, took to the Senate floor for a 15-hour speech to protest Gorsuch. Merkley was not delaying any Senate procedures, unlike the Democrats promise to filibuster Thursday, which prompted the rule change.

The Democrats also attempted to stop Gorsuch's approval with allegations he plagiarized passages in a book he wrote in 2003 titled A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America. Many passages are similar, and, in others, Gorsuch's attribution is vague or sloppy.  It appeared to be the only blemish, however, to emerge from what was likely extensive opposition research.

The Democrats’ challenge to Gorsuch’s nomination was fueled in part by Republican treatment of Merrick Garland during the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency. Garland was tapped by the former president to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after his death in February 2016, but he never received a hearing from the Republican-led Senate.

They also accused Gorsuch of being too partisan to sit on the nation's highest court, citing his rulings on corporate interests and women's health.

President Donald Trump had previously voiced his support for the nuclear option if eight or more Democrats didn't vote Republicans in voting in favor.

Gorsuch will likely pass Friday with all Republicans voting to confirm, along with three Democrats: Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly. Each of those Democrats represents a state that Trump won in the 2016 election.

The rule change was criticized by pundits and some senators as a step toward making the body less reliant on bipartisan dialogue.

"After 200 years, at least 100 years, of this tradition of where the Senate is functioning pretty well, they think it'd be a good idea to blow it up: idiot," Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, said on Wednesday. "No, whoever says that is a stupid idiot who has not been here and seen what I've been through and how we were able to avoid that on several occasions. They are stupid, and they have deceived their voters because they are so stupid."

McCain nonetheless voted for the change.

The move does not affect legislation, which can still be stalled by filibuster if it fails to get 60 votes.

A similar rule change was enacted by Democrats during former President Barack Obama’s second term. It allowed most presidential nominees, including federal court judges, to pass on a simple majority, but it excluded Supreme Court picks.

That irony did not stop Schumer's condemnation.

"Make no mistake about it," he said. "For all the back and forth, the responsibility for changing the rules will fall on the Republicans and leader McConnell's shoulders. They had other choices. They have chosen this one."

Former Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada was the Democratic majority leader during the 2013 rule change. 

Gorsuch is an appellate judge in Denver on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He was appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2006 and passed a unanimous vote in the Senate.

He was born in Denver on Aug. 29, 1967. He holds an undergraduate degree from Columbia University, a juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School and a doctor of philosophy in law from University College at Oxford University.

Gorsuch met his wife, Louise Gorsuch, at Oxford. She is British. The couple and their two daughters, Emma and Belinda, live in Boulder, CO.

Copyright 2017 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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