Senate pulls 'nuclear' trigger to ease Gorsuch confirmation

"This will be the first, and last, partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee", McConnell said.

That mild-sounding parliamentary maneuver has the most destructive nickname, "the nuclear option", because it contains sweeping impact on the Senate, President Trump and all of his successors - and the nation as a whole.

Republicans are planning to unilaterally change Senate rules to remove a 60-vote filibuster requirement for Gorsuch and all future Supreme Court nominees, reducing it to a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

Democrats opposed Gorsuch for a variety of reasons, including his conservative judicial philosophy, dissatisfaction with his answers during his confirmation hearings and a simmering resentment towards McConnell's decision to block any consideration of President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland past year.

The move could change the Senate and court for generations.

Senators on both sides of the aisle lamented the trajectory they were on toward the Senate rules change, though they themselves were in position to prevent it from happening and failed to do so.

McConnell and his fellow Republicans will now move through a series of procedural votes over Democratic objections.

Republican Senator John McCain had tried to forge a bipartisan deal to avert the rule change but gave up early this week after Democrats said they had enough votes to block Gorsuch.

Liberal groups called for an all-out fight to reject Gorsuch, a staunch conservative who is likely to vote "to limit gay rights, uphold restrictions on abortion, and invalidate affirmative action programmes", according to a study that analyses the ideologies of potential Supreme Court nominees. In addition, Gorsuch didn't show himself to be a mainstream judge during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

The 52-48 vote called for by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday will let the Senate confirm Neil Gorsuch on Friday to take a court seat that Republicans refused to let President Barack Obama fill during his a year ago in office.

Supreme Court filibusters have been almost unheard of in the Senate, but the confrontation is playing out amid an explosive political atmosphere with liberal Democrats furious over the Trump presidency and Republicans desperate to get a win after months of chaos from Trump.

McConnell raised a point of order to change the rules "under the precedent set on November 21, 2013", when then-majority Senate Democrats made the same move for lower court and executive branch nominations.

Nonetheless, McCain voted with McConnell on the rules change, saying he felt he had no choice.

The chamber is now voting on motions called by Democrats as a delaying tactic. This vote came just after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked the "nuclear option", leading to a successful vote on a rule change, which allowed the Senate to invoke cloture with just a simple majority rather than the previously required 60 votes.

By essentially eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees - an extension of the 2013 nuclear option triggered by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for all lower court and executive branch nominees - all presidential nominees will now face a far easier path navigating through the Senate confirmation process.

The seat has been open since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, with McConnell holding the seat open so the victor of the last year's presidential election could make the pick.

  • Carolyn Briggs