As the battle over the Supreme Court nears its dramatic conclusion, debate has begun to center around whether or not Senate rules will be changed.Earlier this week, Democrats announced they had enough support to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, setting up a historic showdown with the GOP. With a filibuster likely, the only avenue left to push Gorsuch through is the so-called “nuclear option.” The procedure would allow Republicans to change the rules and eliminate the filibuster, allowing Gorsuch to be confirmed with a simple majority.
Although using the nuclear option may seem like a foregone conclusion, there are a few bumps in the road. Despite the fact that Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, there are a few GOP members who have been less than enthusiastic about changing Senate rules. Chief among the obstacles Republicans could face is John McCain, who in the past has fought hard to oppose similar procedures for judicial nominations. However, McCain just announced that he plans to support the GOP effort.
With his towering stature in the party, both in seniority and later as the 2008 presidential nominee, McCain was seen by some as the de facto chairman of the Gang of 14 effort in 2005 to save the option of filibustering judicial nominees in the future — but allowing through many of President George W. Bush’s nominees that were then being blocked by a Democratic filibuster. Ironically, that strategy’s architect was none other than Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who implemented it in 2003.“The unprecedented nature of the Democrats’ filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee has left me in a difficult position,” the Arizona senator lamented on the state of affairs in 2017, and after surveying years of past practice in Senate confirmations.
“I’m left with no choice,” McCain declared. “I will vote to change the rules to allow Judge Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority.”
The announcement came just a short time after Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed similar support. Murkowski was seen by some as unlikely to endorse using the nuclear option:Speaking shortly before McCain, Murkowski made comments, then announced, “I will not acquiesce to an effort to deny Judge Gorsuch a seat on the Supreme Court.”
“I am left with the undeniable impression that Neil Gorsuch has been nominated to a position that he prepared his whole life to assume,” Murkowski continued. “He is not merely a good choice in my book, he’s the best choice… perhaps a justice of historic proportions.”The two Senators support, with Vice President Mike Pence as a tiebreaker, likely clinches the GOP’s plan to change Senate rules if it comes to that. Whether or not the news will force Democrats to abandon their filibuster attempt remains to be seen, but there has been no indication a change of heart is in the cards.
In any event, the year-long saga to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia is coming to a conclusion. By the looks of it, Neil Gorsuch is likely assured to fill that role.
[Note: This post was authored by Michael Lee. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee]