Here's Why Republicans May Be Screwing Themselves Over By Going 'Nuclear' For Gorsuch

by John Haltiwanger

On Thursday, Senate Republicans triggered what is known as the "nuclear option" after Democrats blocked a confirmation vote for Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

This clears the way for Gorsuch's confirmation.

But invoking the "nuclear option" was a dramatic and historic move that fundamentally changes the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees.

They may have also shot themselves in the foot for the future.

So, they'll get what they want in the short-term, but in the long-run, they could regret this.

To understand why this is, it's necessary to break down what invoking the so-called "nuclear" option means in relation to the confirmation process for Supreme Court justices.

Here's how a Supreme Court justice gets confirmed.

In order for someone to become a Supreme Court justice, they must be nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, as outlined in the US Constitution.

Then, they have to go through hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they're asked a series of questions in order to assess whether they're a strong fit for the Supreme Court.

If they don't screw this up, the committee decides whether to recommend him or her for a full Senate vote.

This is where things get a bit complicated.

Up until the nuclear option was invoked on Thursday, three-fifths of the Senate, or 60 senators, would have to vote for cloture for a confirmation vote to occur.

In other words, 60 senators would have to vote to end debate and hold a vote on confirmation.

This could be blocked or delayed with a filibuster -- until now.

The nuclear option, explained:

Democrats successfully filibustered Gorsuch's confirmation vote on Thursday morning.

But this didn't last very long, as Republicans triggered the "nuclear option" hours later.

By invoking the "nuclear option," Republicans changed the rules and a Supreme Court nominee can now be confirmed via a simple majority (51 votes). This means no more filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations.

Republicans currently have a majority in the Senate, with 52 seats.

So, now that they've changed the rules, they can more or less ignore the Democratic party's opposition to Gorsuch, and move forward to confirm him.

A final confirmation vote is set to occur on Friday.

There's a good chance Republicans will regret this in the future.


In 2013, Democrats invoked the "nuclear option," so most presidential nominees (but not Supreme Court nominees) could be confirmed via a simple majority.

Some might say Democrats chose not to change the rules for Supreme Court justices because it's considered to be one of the most sacred positions in government.

At the time, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said to Democrats,

You will no doubt come to regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.

McConnell was referring to the fact that Democrats would regret it once they ended up in the minority again, which is the position they currently find themselves in.

But McConnell, now Senate Majority Leader, apparently didn't want to listen to his own advice, given that he made the call to trigger the nuclear option on Thursday.

The 2018 midterms aren't that far away, and it's definitely possible Democrats could end up in the majority once more.

Senator John McCain warned about this before Republicans triggered the nuclear option (but, uh, he ended up voting for it anyway).

What happened on Thursday is yet another reminder of the dysfunction and division that plagues the US government.

It's worth remembering it wasn't that long ago Senate Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.


Gorsuch didn't get a fair shot because of hyper-partisanship, and for that same reason, long-standing Senate rules were just changed.

The rules were in place to ensure the minority had a voice in picking Supreme Court justices, who make decisions that impact the direction of the country for many years to come. Now, however, majority rules.

Long story short, this is arguably a very unhealthy and undemocratic precedent for America.

Citations: Republicans Use 'Nuclear Option' to Clear the Way for Gorsuch Confirmation (NBC News)