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Going nuclear

Here's what will happen if the
Senate uses the "nuclear option"

Here’s what will happen if the Senate uses the “nuclear option”

The Senate filibuster is a longstanding mechanism of democratic compromise — and Republicans are on the brink of dismantling it.

Judge Neil Gorsuch’s contentious nomination to the Supreme Court has set the Senate on the path to using the so-called nuclear option, to overcome the filibuster. It’s a change to Senate precedent that would lower the overall support a Supreme Court nominee needs from 60 Senate votes to 51. That means invoking the nuclear option would let Senate Republicans confirm Gorsuch even as Democrats filibuster, or try to hold up the confirmation process.

“It would be another step on the sad road of making the chamber a much more partisan institution,” said Gregory Koger, a University of Miami associate professor of political science and the author of “Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate.”

Only three Democrats have said they would vote for Gorsuch — not enough to stop the 41 Democrats who have pledged to filibuster. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Monday to send Gorsuch to the full Senate. Since Republicans have said they will confirm Gorsuch by April 7, they have only a few days left to go through with the nuclear option.

Watch our video explainer for more on why the Senate nuclear option is a measure of last resort.

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