Trump To McConnell: 'Go Nuclear' To Confirm Supreme Court Pick

Changing the Senate rules could have far-reaching consequences for future nominees.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would encourage Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to change Senate rules to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, with just 50 votes, rather than the 60 currently needed to confirm justices to the high court.

“If we end up with the same gridlock we’ve had in Washington for longer than eight years ... I would say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear,’” Trump told reporters at a White House meeting one day after he announced his decision to nominate Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

“Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect. I would say it’s up to Mitch, but I would say, ‘Go for it,” Trump said.

The decision to change the rules of the Senate could have wide-reaching implications for future presidential nominees. By requiring a 51-vote simple majority, and not a 60-vote supermajority, to confirm nominees, a rules change could pave the way for the confirmation of more ideologically extreme nominees in the future. 

For this reason, invoking the so-called nuclear option is not something McConnell takes lightly. Still, if not a single Democrat is willing to vote to confirm Gorsuch, it could be the only option left to the majority leader.

McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday morning that he thought Democrats would back down, and he would not have to decide whether to change the Senate rules.

“I don’t think that’s going to be required,” McConnell said. “It’s interesting that a number of Democrats already last night said they were squeamish ― they didn’t put it quite this way ― squeamish about filibustering” Gorsuch.

But McConnell also made clear that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to confirm Gorsuch to the bench.

“I’m not going to predict how this is going to end. It’s really up to the Democrats. They made us get cloture, that is a super-majority vote, on Justice Alito back in 2006, but cloture was invoked. In other words, we got 60 votes,” McConnell said.

“We’re going to follow the regular order of the Senate, and we’re going to give the Democrats a chance to confirm this outstanding nominee. And I’m not going to answer the hypothetical question about how this may end, other than to say Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed,” he continued. 

McConnell is widely known for defending the Senate’s arcane procedures and for upholding the tradition of civility that has long defined the nation’s highest legislative body. But Trump does not share McConnell’s cautious approach to changing the rules.

In an interview last month, Trump said he would encourage the majority leader to change the Senate rules in order to confirm his Cabinet nominees. “I would,” he told Sean Hannity on Fox News, adding, “We have obstructionists.”

The battle to confirm Gorsuch is reopening wounds for Democratic senators, who spent nearly a year trying to get a confirmation hearing for former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the court, Merrick Garland. McConnell blocked their efforts, saying he would not move on the president’s Supreme Court nominee during an election year.

Mike McAuliff contributed reporting.