Three things to know: The GOP invoking the "nuclear option"

Posted at 1:15 PM, Apr 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-06 13:18:35-04

It sounds scary -- today the GOP voted to invoke what's being called the "nuclear option." It's a rules change that will allow them to confirm Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.

But what is it? Where did it start? Here's three things to know:


1. The "nuclear option" lowers the threshold to confirm judicial nominees

Previously, either party likely needed 61 votes in the Senate to confirm a judicial nominee, which is a problem given that neither party has 60 elected senators. That's because the other party could filibuster, and breaking a filibuster required that larger threshold.

Not anymore. The "nuclear option" essentially renders the filibuster useless, by requiring just a simple majority, 51 votes, to break the filibuster -- the same number of votes needed to confirm the nominee.

This is a permanent rule change. All Supreme Court nominees going forward, from either party, will just need 51 votes to be confirmed.


2. Democrats used the "nuclear option" in 2013, but the idea is much older

Democrats, facing a slew of filibusters from Republicans, changed the rules for all judicial nominations except the Supreme Court in 2013, and the GOP was none-too-happy about it at the time.

But the precedent for changing the rules in the Senate go back farther. Then Vice-President Richard Nixon wrote in an opinion 1957 that the president of the Senate could override senate practice in favor of majority rule. That opinion was used to make similar rule changes in 1975.


3. Using the "nuclear option" could backfire, and would be difficult to put back in place

While using the nuclear options benefits the GOP now, if the Democrats take back the Senate, they could use the rule to their advantage in the future.

So why doesn't the GOP just put it back in place once they're done with it? Any attempt to change the rules back could also be filibustered (which isn't affected by this rule change) and that would require a two-thirds vote, 67 senators, to agree.

Try getting 67 senators to agree on anything.