If you thought firing a nuclear warhead was complicated, just try triggering the U.S. Senate’s nuclear option.
On Thursday, the Republican-led Senate is expected to invoke the so-called nuclear option in order to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. In so doing, they will remove the filibuster as a part of the Supreme Court confirmation process forever — or until someone decides to change it back.
Under current Senate precedent, 60 senators must vote to go forward with a vote. Because there are only 52 Republicans, the Democrats can stop the vote. And because they’re still smarting from Senate Republicans’ refusal to hold a hearing on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, for 10 months last year, that’s exactly what Senate Democrats planned to do.
To foil that, and change the way the Senate works, Republicans are expected to change the precedent Thursday to require only 51 votes. While the process is complicated, it will all happen pretty fast. By Friday, federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch will be likely confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
Here’s what has to happen between now and then:
- Republicans move to end debate but fall short of the required 60 votes entering a limbo zone known as “non-debatable.”
- One Republican, perhaps Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will then have to switch their vote to the side voting against Gorsuch so they can demand a reconsideration of the vote.
- That Republican will then issue a point of order arguing that only 51 votes are required to end the debate, not 60. Whoever is presiding over the Senate will tell them something that boils down to “nope.”
- That same Republican will then appeal that “nope.”
- The Senate will then vote on whether the “nope” stands and that will only require 51 votes to overturn. With 52 votes in the Senate, the Republicans will likely win that vote.
- They vote again on ending the debate and now only a majority is needed forevermore on Supreme Court nominees unless they eventually go through this process again and reverse themselves. Unlike actual nuclear weapons, this nuclear option can be undone.
- They will then finally take the vote on Neil Gorsuch which will only require a majority.