Reported By Jordain Carney – 04/06/17 12:51 PM EDT
The Senate voted Thursday to move forward with Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination after Republicans took a historic step that lowers the vote threshold for high court nominees to a simple majority. Senators voted 55-45 to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination, setting up a final confirmation vote for Friday. Thanks to a procedural move that changed Senate rules earlier Thursday, a simple majority was needed to move forward.
Democrats had successfully blocked Gorsuch’s nomination from getting 60 votes earlier, prompting Republicans to employ the “nuclear option,” which effectively ends filibusters for all Supreme Court nominees. Democrats tried to delay the rule change vote by offering motions to postpone a vote and to adjourn the chamber, but both fell short as Republicans stayed unified.
Republicans defended the party-line vote on the nuclear option, saying Democrats were to blame for blocking Gorsuch, who they believe is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued that Democrats should “come to their senses.”
“The truth of the matter is that throughout this process, the minority led by their leader has been desperately searching for a justification for their preplanned filibuster,” he said ahead of Thursday’s votes.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) added that the current stalemate was part of a decades-long Democratic effort to “politicize the courts and the confirmation process.”
Republicans hinted for weeks that Trump’s nominee would be confirmed one way or another. McConnell confirmed during a leadership press conference that he had the votes to go nuclear if needed. Republicans appeared resigned to the tactics, arguing if Democrats won’t support Gorsuch — who received the American Bar Association’s highest rating — they won’t allow any GOP nominee to join the Supreme Court.
But Democrats made a last-minute pledge for Republicans to back down and change the nominee, an argument that never gained traction with GOP senators.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “When a nominee doesn’t get enough votes for confirmation the answer is not to change the rules, it’s to change the nominee.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) during an eleventh-hour press conference blasted the GOP tactics, saying it “is just wrong to pack the court through this stolen seat.”
Progressives groups also stepped up their attacks heading into Thursday’s vote, warning that Republicans will be to blame for going “nuclear.” The People’s Defense — a coalition of roughly a dozen progressive groups led by NARAL Pro-Choice America — released a digital ad campaign targeting Republicans in Arizona, Alaska, Maine, Nevada and South Carolina, warning them that “history is watching.”
Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Dean Heller (Nev.), among those being targeted by outside groups, are Republicans’ two most vulnerable incumbents. Schumer echoed that from the Senate floor on Thursday, saying that Republicans “had other choices. They’ve chosen this one.”
Democrats remain deeply bitter of Republicans treatment of Merrick Garland, whom former President Barack Obama’s nominated to fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. GOP leaders refused to give Garland a hearing or a vote. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) argued that the current stalemate over the Supreme Court dates back Scalia’s death and “what we’re facing today is the fallout.”
But the hardball tactics drew skepticism from both Republican and Democratic senators, who held around-the-clock negotiations to try to prevent the rule change but ultimately failed.
Told that by a reporter that some people think the Senate will function better without the filibuster, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) fired back: “Whoever said that is a stupid idiot.”
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) also warned that without the need for 60 votes to break a filibuster, Trump might easily appoint Attorney General Jeff Sessions or EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to the Supreme Court in the future.