The Nuclear Option, Explained: Gorsuch Vote Could Rely on Rule Change

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It became increasingly clear Monday that Senate Democrats are likely to filibuster the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Republicans may respond this week by employing the so-called nuclear option to ensure Gorsuch gets a seat on the bench.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) gave the Democrats the important 41st vote of support for a filibuster. The left could effectively stall the process for Gorsuch, partly because of concerns about his judicial philosophy and record, and partly due to lingering frustration that Judge Merrick Garland—former President Barack Obama's nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia—was denied even confirmation hearings by the GOP. 

In response to a potential filibuster, Republicans have all but guaranteed they'll use the nuclear option to confirm President Donald Trump's nominee. The nuclear option is a procedure that allows for a rules change that would change precedent. With the nuclear option triggered, instead of 60 votes, Republicans would need just a simple majority of 51 votes. The GOP currently holds 52 seats in the Senate.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Gorsuch will be confirmed Friday, no matter what. "Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week," he said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday. "How that happens will really depend on what will happen with our Democratic friends."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) reaffirmed that stance. "If we have to, we will change the rules, and it looks like we're going to have to," he told colleagues, according to the Hill. "I hate that, I really, really do."

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a news conference Monday that the adminstration was comfortable with Republicans using the nuclear option, pointing to past comments in which Trump supported its use.

"If we end up with that gridlock I would say if you can, Mitch, go nuclear," Trump said in February, referring to McConnell. "That would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web. So I would say, it's up to Mitch, but I would say go for it."

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