Why Senate Republicans Are Considering the 'Nuclear Option'

February 2nd 2017

Kyle Jaeger

President Donald Trump voiced support for the use of a controversial tactic known as the "nuclear option" on Wednesday. Rarely used, the option allows the majority party in the Senate to rewrite congressional rules in order to strip power from the minority party and more easily confirm the president's judicial nominees.


The statement comes as Senate Democrats are weighting the prospect of blocking Trump's Supreme Court nominee, federal judge Neil Gorsuch. As it stands, a Supreme Court nominee requires 60 votes in the Senate to be confirmed, which means eight Democrats would have to join the 52 Republicans in the chamber to confirm Gorsuch.

"If we end up with that gridlock I would say, 'If you can, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R)], go nuclear,'" Trump said at a White House event on Wednesday. "Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect. I would say it’s up to Mitch, but I would say, 'Go for it.'"


The most recent application of the nuclear option happened in 2013. Senate Democrats, frustrated by repeated Republican filibusters of former President Barack Obama's nominees, used the option to lower the threshold for approving the nominees from 60 votes to 51, a simple majority. That rule still holds now that Republicans control the chamber, and its come back to haunt Democrats, who would have been able to block several of Trump's controversial cabinet nominees in recent days were it not for the fact that Republicans occupy a majority of chamber seats.

Democrats did, however, exclude Supreme Court nominees from the rule change.

Chuck Schumer

During a press briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration would rather not exercise the nuclear option to push Trump's Supreme Court nominee through confirmation, but he declined to rule out the possibility. Trump "believes that Judge Gorsuch is unbelievably qualified and that he will get not only confirmed," he said, "but done so with a large bipartisan vote."