WASHINGTON ― The standoff over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was headed for a historic end Thursday, with Democrats prepared to filibuster President Donald Trump’s court pick and Republicans ready to execute a “nuclear option” rules change to break the blockade.
The nuclear option is a string of procedural moves that allows a Senate majority to change long-standing rules with a simple majority, or 51 votes. Those rules normally require a two-thirds vote to change. And it normally takes 60 votes to end a filibuster, but Republicans hold only 52 seats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opened the session blaming Democrats for the showdown.
“Our Democratic colleagues appeared poised to block this incredible nominee with the first partisan filibuster in American history,” McConnell said Thursday morning.
He did not mention the Republicans’ blockade last year of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, who was the first nominee not granted a hearing ― much less a vote.
Nevertheless, McConnell accused Democrats of playing politics with Gorsuch, whom the Democrats say is too ideological and conservative.
“This isn’t really about the nominee anyway. The opposition to this nominee is really more about the man who nominated him, and the party he represents,” McConnell said. “It’s part of a much larger story, another escalation in the left’s never-ending drive to politicize the courts and the confirmation process.”
McConnell said the goal of Democrats was nothing less than “securing raw power no matter the cost to the country or the institution.”
Democrats, meanwhile, held a press conference urging Republicans not to blow up the filibuster rule to get Gorsuch through.
“If Trump wins, it will only be because he wrecked the rules so he could win. And he was aided and abetted by the Republican leadership,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said to a group of cheering progressive supporters.
Blumenthal said Democrats know they can’t ultimately stop Gorsuch from being confirmed, but they feel they are doing the right thing by fighting him to the bitter end.
“We may lose today,” he said. “But we win in adhering to basic core principles and conscience.”