The U.S. Senate has long prided itself as a deliberative body, less partisan than the House and more devoted to consensus.
That tradition is in tatters after Republicans forced through a rules change Thursday so on Friday they can confirm Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Instead of requiring 60 votes to cut off filibusters and move to an up-or-down vote, it now only takes a simple majority of 51 votes.
It’s called the “nuclear option,” and for good reason. It obliterated whatever bipartisanship was left, and the fallout will be felt for years to come.
The rules change applies to future Supreme Court nominees, further politicizing the high court. But it seems only a matter of time before the new rules cover controversial legislation as well.
Whichever party is in power could pass sweeping bills without the compromise needed to make them more acceptable to a broader slice of the public. And when the other party takes control, it could reverse these huge policies – on the environment, guns, health care, taxes, you name it – with a bare majority.
That is not good for governing this country.
While the Senate has been trending more partisan for years, what happened Thursday is a historic tipping point. While leaders of both parties bemoaned the change, both parties are to blame, though Republicans are more responsible recently.
They routinely blocked Barack Obama’s nominees for federal judgeships when Democrats controlled the Senate, so in 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada invoked the nuclear option for judicial nominees and executive appointments.
Then when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly last year, Republicans stole the lifetime appointment from Obama. Led by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, GOP senators refused to even hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, Obama’s eminently qualified nominee, in hopes that a Republican would be elected president in November and get the appointment.
On Thursday, Democrats supported the filibuster to block Gorsuch, making their liberal supporters happy. Republicans responded with the 52-48 party-line vote to change the rules.
In today’s bitterly divided politics, bipartisan compromise may seem like a quaint notion. But it’s a foundation of our democracy, and it’s a sad day when it moves closer to the grave.