WASHINGTON — Senators voted on Thursday to advance Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up a final confirmation vote on Friday.

By a vote of to 55 to 45, all Republicans and three Democrats voted to proceed to final debate on the nomination of Gorsuch, 49, a Denver-based judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. If confirmed, Gorsuch would replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly last year, sparking a more than year-long feud among senators about the future makeup of the high court.

Gorsuch’s nomination advanced shortly after Republicans successfully voted to approve what’s known as the “nuclear option,” changing Senate rules to allow the confirmation of Gorsuch and all other Supreme Court nominees by a simple-majority vote.

The long-anticipated change came after Democrats earlier blocked attempts to advance Gorsuch’s nomination. The change now means that all presidential nominees for executive branch positions and federal courts only need a simple majority vote to be confirmed by senators.

But the change is also likely to make an already bitterly divided Senate even more partisan, with several senators warning in recent days that ending filibusters of presidential nominees could lead to the end of filibusters on legislation – effectively ending the Senate’s role as a slower, more deliberative legislative body.

“This will be the first and last partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nomination,” McConnell, R-Ky., vowed Thursday morning ahead of the votes.


Democrats warned that rules change will have implications reaching far beyond the battle over Gorsuch.

“The consequences for the Senate and for the future of the Supreme Court will be far-reaching,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said before the vote, adding that “The cooling saucer of the Senate will get considerably hotter.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who chaired four days of confirmation hearings on Gorsuch, blasted Democrats before the vote for “desperately searching for justification for their pre-planned filibuster.”

As the first procedural vote unfolded, Schumer and McConnell looked on from their desks at the front of the Senate chamber just a few feet apart. Schumer took gulps of water between conversations with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., his top deputy, as well as other aides and senators. McConnell sat calmly at his desk with a solemn expression.

After about 30 minutes, McConnell stood and switched his vote on advancing Gorsuch from “yes” to “no” – a parliamentary tactic allowing him to bring up the nomination again and to begin moves aimed at changing the rules.

For senators, it was the second time in less than four years that they voted to reshape the way they offer advice and consent to a president on executive branch and judicial nominees. In 2013, Democrats – angered by years of Republican blockades on former president Barack Obama’s nominees – opted to use the “nuclear option” and pushed through a rules change confirming all executive branch nominees and lower-court picks with a simple majority vote. But Democrats did not include the Supreme Court in theat change, believing that lifetime appointments to the nation’s highest court should be handled differently.


Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a past critic of invoking the nuclear option, said negotiations to prevent it failed this time because of what the Senate had become.

“There’s such a profound lack of trust, and that’s what many of us are committed to trying to rebuild,” she said. “We need to make very clear to the leaders on both sides that there’s no support for curtailing our existing ability to filibuster legislation.”

Floor debate on Gorsuch’s nomination officially began Tuesday and was dominated into Wednesday by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., one of the Senate’s most liberal members, who spoke overnight for more than 15 hours against Gorsuch.

Thursday’s showdown began around 11 a.m., when senators convened for a “cloture vote” – a special feature of Senate procedure that ends debate on a bill or nomination, allowing the process to move to a final vote.

When the motion failed, McConnell and Schumer used a series of procedural maneuvers that led to the rules change. McConnell first raised a “point of order” to suggest that Gorsuch’s nomination could be advanced with a simple majority of votes rather than the usual 60. Schumer responded by unsuccessfully motioning to delay Gorsuch’s nomination and to adjourn the Senate.

Republicans, confident that Gorsuch will be confirmed easily on Friday, were in a bright mood despite the impasse. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., casting his first-ever vote on the high court, paused before heading to the Senate floor to record a message for Snapchat. He adjusted the camera to make sure its shot included a statue of Benjamin Franklin behind him.


“It’ll be great to have a fellow westerner on the court!” he said.

Gorsuch’s nomination was announced in late January and three days of confirmation hearings began on March 20 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. While Gorsuch allies praised his demeanor, most Democrats came away unsatisfied with the federal appeals court judge’s answers on issues they expected to come before the court.

Some Democrats signaled on Thursday that beyond concerns with Gorsuch, they wouldn’t necessarily support restoring Senate traditions if they ever retake control of the chamber.

“We can’t unilaterally disarm,” said Merkley.

Democrats said the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election further justified their decision to push the Senate to the brink over the Supreme Court. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., argued that Democrats want to ensure the next justice will be fully independent from the White House in the event that the court is called upon to enforce a subpoena against Trump.

“We are casting this vote today in the midst of a looming constitutional crisis,” Blumenthal said. “If the FBI needs a subpoena, they will have to go to 1/8the3/8 courts and eventually maybe it will go to the Supreme Court.”

But Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., warned that the change to Senate rules “makes it less likely you’re going to have centrist, moderate nominees on the Supreme Court.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who grilled Gorsuch on campaign finance laws during the confirmation hearings, argued that no deal between the parties to maintain a filibuster would prevent Republicans from jamming through a future nominee if the court’s balance was at stake.

Asked what he was thinking as he walked to the Senate floor, Whitehouse said one word: “Inevitability.”

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