The president wants Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, and if he can’t get him there under the current rules, he wants to “go nuclear.”

As long as Trump knows that it’s just an expression, I’m with him.

The “nuclear option” is code for getting rid of the Senate filibuster rule that requires three-fifths of the body to vote to end debate, forcing the Senate to vote on a measure.

Supporters of the filibuster rule say that it makes the parties to work together making the Senate the home of bipartisan deal making. But that’s not how things have worked in a very long time. There hasn’t been a Supreme Court justice confirmed by a Senate controlled by a party other than the president’s in a quarter-century, and there may never be another. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set a new standard by refusing to even consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland on the grounds that a Republican might win the next election. He got his wish and here we are.

Gorsuch will be seated on the Court, and it’s not because he has a keen judicial mind, perfect credentials, a thoughtful demeanor, prematurely gray hair or a beautiful speaking voice. He’ll get there because the Republican Party won the last two elections.

They took the Senate in 2014 and last year Republicans put aside their differences and supported Trump, the least popular candidate ever. Evangelical Christians swallowed hard and voted for the first presidential candidate in history known to brag about grabbing women’s genitals because they knew he would nominate an anti-abortion judge for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Business elites looked past Trump’s comments about immigration, global trade and universal health care because they knew he would nominate a judge who would put their interests over workers’.


They won the election, so they are going to get their judge. That’s good news for them.

But there is good news for Democrats here as well.

Thomas Brackett Reed, whose statue you can see if you take a walk on the Western Prom in Portland, once said: “The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch.”

He would know. Reed, a Republican, was elected speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1890 and used his power to singlehandedly abolish the “silent filibuster,” which had let the Democratic minority stop any business from being done. Reed’s Rules are still in place today, surviving multiple changes in party control.

If Democrats and their fellow travelers watch the Republicans try to govern, they might see that after confirming Gorsuch, there is not much else the party is capable of doing.

Look at the collapse of the health care bill. The House Republicans were divided into camps of people who thought cutting off health insurance for 24 million people was a step in the right direction and those who said the bill did not eliminate nearly enough coverage.


Because of the unfortunately named “Hastert Rule” (in honor of the former Republican speaker and child molester Dennis Hastert), House Republicans will not bring anything to a vote that would need significant Democratic support to pass. That means they can’t do anything without the fire-breathing Freedom Caucus, which has vowed to vote as a bloc, and would just as soon shut down the government as make it work better.

What’s that going to get them? Nothing to help the aging Republican voter base, which relies more on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid every year, programs that the Republican hardliners want to cut to the bone.

Under Harry Reid, Democrats killed the filibuster for appointments up to the Supreme Court. The current version of the “nuclear option” would end that exemption, but probably leave the filibuster in place for legislation. It’s just a matter of time before a stymied majority sweeps that away, too.

Losing the filibuster will hurt Democrats for a while, but they’ll get over it. The filibuster is strictly for defense. Even though both parties have employed the rule, it’s always going to be more useful to the party that wants to stop things from happening than the one that wants to change them. Assuming they can get back into the majority, the Democrats would be better off without it. (Imagine single-payer health care passing by a vote of 51 to 50 in the Senate, with a Democratic vice president casting a tie-breaking vote.)

If the Republicans want their judge, let them blow up the filibuster rule. If Democrats don’t like it, maybe they should take the Senate back in 2018.

And if Trump wants to go nuclear, let him.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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