Gorsuch heads for confirmation as Senate tears up own rules

WASHINGTON — In a confrontation that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations, Republicans tore up the Senate’s voting rules Thursday to allow Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the high court over furious Democratic objections.

Democrats denounced the GOP’s use of what both sides dubbed the “nuclear option” to put Gorsuch on the court, calling it an epic power grab that would further corrode politics in Congress, the courts and the nation. Many Republicans bemoaned reaching that point, too, but they blamed Democrats for pushing them to it.

“We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court,” declared Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

“This is going to be a chapter, a monumental event in the history of the Senate, not for the better but for the worse,” warned Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior Republican.

A final confirmation vote on Gorsuch is expected Friday, and he should be sworn in soon to hear the final cases of the term.

The Senate change, affecting how many votes a nominee needs for confirmation, will apply to all future Supreme Court candidates, likely ensuring more ideological justices chosen with no need for consultation with the minority party. Trump himself predicted to reporters aboard Air Force One that “there could be as many as four” Supreme Court vacancies for him to fill during his administration.

The maneuvering played out in a tense Senate chamber with most members in their seats, a rare and theatrical occurrence.

First Democrats tried to mount a filibuster in an effort to block Gorsuch by denying him the 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote. That was successful only briefly, as Gorsuch fell five votes short. Then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., raised a point of order, suggesting that Supreme Court nominees should not be subjected to a 60-vote threshold but instead a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell was overruled, but he appealed the ruling. And on that he prevailed on a 52-48 party-line vote. The 60-vote filibuster requirement on Supreme Court nominees was effectively gone, and with it the last vestige of bipartisanship on presidential nominees in an increasingly polarized Senate.