This week the Senate went nuclear, blowing up the use of the filibuster to get Judge Neil Gorsuch onto the United States Supreme Court.
If you’ve been walking around pretending you know what all of this means – but really don’t – then this is for you.
First off, the filibuster may sound like an old timey candy bar packed with salty peanuts and fudge.
Sadly, it is not a tasty treat and if it were, it would be very dry. What the filibuster is, is an old timey tactic that allows the minority party in the Senate to still hold some power. In this case, the Democrats were filibustering to keep Judge Neil Gorsuch off the high court.
What does that mean? Normally, it takes 51 votes to get something through the Senate. But once the debate period opens it takes 60 votes to close the debate period. Republicans didn’t have 60 votes for Gorsuch.
So everything grinded to a halt. That delay is what the filibuster is about. To end the delay, the Republicans used, what’s called the nuclear option. As the majority party, they have the power to change Senate rules. So they used that power to eliminate the filibuster rule. Now, instead of needing 60 votes to close the debate period – which they didn’t have – the Republicans only needed 51 votes – which they did have.
And that’s how Gorsuch eventually came up for a vote and was approved.
Finally, there are three kinds of filibusters. One for the Supreme Court. Another for approving federal judges to lower courts and the last for legislation. In 2013, Democrats couldn’t get past Republican filibusters on federal judges. So, they went nuclear and eliminated it.
Now there’s just one kind of filibuster left. It’s for legislation. Of the three, it’s the most commonly used form. Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to preserve it but, then again, politicians tend to say a lot of things.
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