Senate Democrats have assembled enough votes to mount a filibuster that would block consideration of President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, setting up a fight over the chamber’s rules that is expected to result in the triggering of the “nuclear option” by Republicans. Here’s an explanation of what that means, and how the Senate got to this point.
What is the nuclear option?
The “nuclear option” refers to a move by the majority party in the Senate — currently the Republicans — to change Senate rules to strip power from the minority party. In the current context, it would mean a rule change to allow Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed with a simple majority of the Senate. Currently, nominees first have to jump a higher hurdle — three-fifths of the Senate, or 60 votes.
What is the current math on the filibuster?
To reach 60 votes to overcome the filibuster, the 52 Republicans need eight Democrats. As of Monday, just three Democrats said they intended to vote for cloture, while 41 said they plan to block the nomination. That leaves Republicans shy of the needed votes to end the filibuster and proceed with the nomination.
Why is it called the nuclear option?
“Nuclear option” typically refers to an option so drastic it must only be used as a last resort. Former Sen. Trent Lott (R., Miss.) was the first to use it in this context, and the name has stuck for several reasons. First, changing the Senate rules breaks longstanding precedent. Also, the Republicans — and the Democrats previously — know that when the majority party becomes the minority party, as inevitably happens, that party would be stripped of most of its leverage, thanks to its own rule change.
An expanded version of this story is available at WSJ.com.
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