Explainer: How Would the Senate's ‘nuclear Option' Affect Trump Supreme Court Nominee?

WASHINGTON — In the Senate, removing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees is considered such a monumental change that it's called the "nuclear option." And the Senate might make that explosive choice in the coming weeks.On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump is expected to name his nominee to the Supreme Court. Normally, a super-majority of 60 senators would be needed to get that nominee a vote in the full Senate. But if Democrats attempt a long delay on Trump’s nominee, as Republicans did for Obama pick Merrick Garland last year, Republicans might eliminate the need for a supermajority all together. It's a bit confusing. Let us explain:What is the nuclear option?It takes a simple majority — 51 out of 100 senators — to confirm a Supreme Court justice. Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate. So if every member voted along party lines, any of Trump’s nominees would successfully be voted onto the highest court in the land.But Democrats could try to filibuster to prevent that vote from taking place at all. In theory, if they are united, Democrats could postpone a vote on any nominee for years — because as of right now, it takes a supermajority of 60 votes to end a filibuster, allowing the vote to proceed.But if the Republicans wanted, a simple majority could vote to change Senate rules, eliminating the filibuster option entirely for Supreme Court nominations. That’s the nuclear option. It would make it significantly easier for the majority party to confirm any Supreme Court nominee going forward.The fact that 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster is partly why Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, never actually got a vote in the Senate. Republicans knew they would be able to filibuster indefinitely, so Democrats never even got Garland a vote in the first place.It's called a nuclear option because it would fundamentally change the rules of an institution that's nearly defined by tradition and because few congressional votes involve stakes as high as the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. Right now, with the supermajority rule in place, at least some bipartisan cooperation is required if a president hopes to get a nominee on the bench. If the rule is dismantled, it will be nearly impossible for the members of a minority party to block a Supreme Court nomination, even for a radical nominee.Has the nuclear option ever been used before?Yes. In 2013, when Democrats controlled the Senate, former majority leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada invoked the nuclear option to eliminate the possibility of filibusters on executive nominees and federal judicial nominees for courts below the Supreme Court.In other words, 52 Democrats voted to eliminate the 60-vote threshold necessary to hold confirmation votes.Reid said he did it because Republicans refused to allow votes on even the lowest-level judicial nominees offered by former President Barack Obama.“There has been unbelievable, unprecedented obstruction,” Reid said at the time.Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky warned of consequences for Reid’s decision.“I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this,” McConnell said at the time. “And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”So will it happen this time?It depends. Few senators are eager to use the nuclear option. But they aren’t taking it off the table, either — at least according to the senators from Texas.“We’re going to confirm the president’s nominee one way or the other, and there’s an easy way and there’s a hard way,” Sen. John Cornyn told POLITICO in November.Sen. Ted Cruz took a similar line: “The Democrats will not succeed in filibustering a Supreme Court nominee,” he said.Meanwhile, some Democrats have pledged to use the filibuster power until it’s taken away. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said the Supreme Court nomination was “stolen” from Obamam and he pledged to use “every lever in our power” to stop a Trump nominee.Neither McConnell, who’s now the majority leader, or Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader now that Reid has retired, have publicly discussed the nuclear option. Schumer has said he regrets that the rules were changed in 2013. But he voted for the change in the end, as did 51 other Democrats and allied independents.  Continue reading...

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