Politics

It's Official: Filibuster of Neil Gorsuch Starts Nuclear Option Clock

Enough Democrats announce opposition to limiting debate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is prepared to change Senate rules so that Republicans can do away with the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, starting this week with Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans will have to use the “nuclear option” to get Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The procedural maneuvering that will likely culminate in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moving to change the chamber’s rules is necessary because 41 members of the Democratic caucus have announced opposition to limiting debate on the Gorsuch nomination. That means they would support a filibuster and the need for 60 votes to get Gorsuch through to confirmation.

Here’s How the Senate Gorsuch Debate Might Play Out This Week

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware became the 41st senator to announce opposition to cutting off debate at this afternoon’s Judiciary Committee meeting to consider the nomination. 

“I am not ready to end debate on this issue. So I will be voting against cloture unless we are able to sit down and find a way to avoid the nuclear option, and ensure the process to fill the next vacancy is not a narrowly partisan process, but rather an opportunity for both parties to weigh in and ensure we place a judge on the court who can secure support from members of both parties,” Coons said.

Lawmakers from both parties have said that there were no formal discussions to avert a rule change. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., indicated that he was involved in some informal discussions, but he was not hopeful there would be a solution.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said a rule change would be regrettable but was resigned Monday that it appeared inevitable. “What is there to negotiate?” he asked reporters as he walked into the Judiciary meeting. “The best thing to do is do for Gorsuch what we did for Sotomayor and Kagan, give them an up or down vote,” he said, referring to Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama’s first two nominees to the high court. Obama’s third nominee, Merrick Garland, never got a hearing or vote from Senate Republicans, a fact that several Democrats cited in their statements about positions on Gorsuch’s nomination.

How Senate Republicans Will Likely Invoke the Nuclear Option

At the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup Monday, Democratic members of the panel previously in the unannounced column said they would oppose the nomination. That included ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California.

Her office confirmed she would also vote against limiting debate.

The same is true of Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the senior-most Senate Democrat and a former chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary panel. 

“I have often said that the Senate, at its best, can be the conscience of the nation. I must now vote my conscience, both today and later this week,” Leahy said.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who does not sit on the Judiciary panel, made a similar announcement in a statement as the panel was meeting.

Warner said he had concerns about damage to the Senate from the looming changes in precedent to bring the threshold for limiting debate down to a simple majority, but that he too would support an effort to block Gorsuch.

“Such a threat is not alone reason enough to support a nominee who has not provided the Senate with sufficient assurances regarding his approach and judicial philosophy.  Consequently, I plan to vote against cloture and against his confirmation,” Warner said.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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