Senate Republicans invoke ‘nuclear option’ to crush Gorsuch opposition

Trump’s supreme court pick set to be confirmed after Democratic filibuster overturned

Members of Democracy Spring demonstrating against the supreme court nomination of Neil Gorsuch being taken into custody on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. Photograph:  Eric Thayer/Reuters

Members of Democracy Spring demonstrating against the supreme court nomination of Neil Gorsuch being taken into custody on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. Photograph: Eric Thayer/Reuters

 

The Republican party moved to change long-standing rules governing the election of Supreme Court justices on Thursday, after Democrats blocked the nomination of US president Donald Trump’s nominee.

In a dramatic move, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell moved to invoke the so-called “nuclear option”, which allows supreme court nominees to be elected by a simple majority, rather than the 60-40 majority currently required.

The rule change is likely to guarantee the appointment of Neil Gorsuch on Friday, but it could mark a significant change to the way the US Senate operates, allowing important decisions to be taken by a simple majority.

Both parties sought to blame each other for the stand-off, with Republicans pointing out that it was Democrats who first changed the rules in 2013 when then senate majority leader Harry Reid invoked the “nuclear option” for executive appointments, but not for Supreme Court justices.

But Democrats, still furious at Republicans refusal to consider president Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia at the court who died just over a year ago, laid the blame at the door of Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Charles E Schumer, the top-ranking democrat in the Senate, warned that the “consequences for the Senate and for the future of the Supreme Court will be far-reaching.”

The decision by Mitch Mc Connell to switch to a majority vote was taken to end the ‘filibuster’ – a delaying tactic often used in the Senate by the minority party to block a procedure.

Mr Gorsuch, a 49 year-old judge from Colorado, was proposed by Mr Trump in January to fill the seat vacated by Antonin Scalia more than a year ago.

But despite what was perceived as a relatively positive performance at his confirmation hearings, only three Democrats voted to back him, with most concerned that he will bring a conservative agenda to the court.

As president Trump flew to Florida for his two-day meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jin Ping, Congress was left reeling by the surprise decision by the chair of the House Intelligence Committee to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation into Russian involvement in the election.

Devin Nunes, the top-ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had become embroiled in controversy after it emerged that he secretly visited the grounds of the White House to receive information he said showed that members of the Trump administration had been inadvertently surveyed by US intelligence services.

Mr Nunes, who was a member of Mr Trump’s transition team, had resisted calls by Democrats to step down, but in a surprise move on Thursday he confirmed he was stepping aside from chairing the investigation following confirmation that he is under investigation by the House ethics committee.

In a strongly-worded statement, Mr Nunes dismissed the charges as “entirely false” and “politically motivated,” blaming “several left-wing activists” for filing complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics.