WASHINGTON — How, exactly, does the Senate go "nuclear"?
If Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch doesn't get 60 votes later this week — the showdown will probably be Thursday — to overcome a Democratic filibuster of his nomination, Republican leaders will likely move quickly to change Senate rules to confirm him without the need for a single Democratic vote.
The change is called the "nuclear option" because it blows up both long-standing rules and bipartisanship in a chamber that has traditionally valued both.
It also is a complicated process that only a parliamentarian could love, the subject of two detailed 2013 reports by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, which helps members of Congress understand congressional procedures.
CRS based one of those reports, from Dec. 6, 2013, on action by former Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who used the nuclear option that year to change Senate rules so that lower court judges and Cabinet nominees could be confirmed by a simple majority, scuttling a Republican filibuster. That move by Reid basically laid out a procedural roadmap that Republicans could now follow to get their way on Gorsuch.
The nuclear path appears to include nine steps that senators would take before finally moving to an up-or-down vote to confirm Gorsuch as the new Supreme Court justice. Republicans could vary these steps a bit, but, based on what Reid did, here's how it could go:
Immediately after Gorsuch fails to win the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could make a motion for the Senate to reconsider that failed vote (called a cloture vote). His motion cannot be debated and would need only a simple majority of the votes cast to pass, which is key since Republicans hold a slim majority of 52 seats. If that motion to reconsider passes, then....
2. Point of Order
McConnell could raise a "point of order" basically declaring that it will now take only a simple majority of senators (rather than three-fifths) to end a filibuster and advance Gorsuch's nomination to a final up-or-down vote.
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