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The Senate side of the Capitol is seen in Washington, early Monday, April 3, 2017, as the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee meets to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by the late Antonin Scalia. A weeklong partisan showdown is expected as Democrats are steadily amassing the votes to block Judge Gorsuch and force Republicans to unilaterally change long-standing rules to confirm him. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The 'nuclear option' isn't a real bomb, but it could crack Senate bipartisanship


Democrats officially have enough votes to force a filibuster over Neil Gorsuch

WATCH | The Senate showdown over Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court confirmation could turn nuclear. It won't be a real nuclear explosion, but it could have some serious consequences that will significantly change the way the Senate works. 

Nuclear numbers game 

Democrats on Monday reached the magic number to sustain a filibuster to block Gorsuch's confirmation vote. 

Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont all announced they would not support Gorsuch, bringing the total to 41. 

It takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, and Republicans only have 52 seats in the Senate, so they needed 8 Democrats to support Gorsuch. 

Republicans likely to detonate 

If they can't break the filibuster, Republicans will likely "go nuclear."

That means they can vote to change Senate precedent so that it would only take 51 votes -- a simple majority -- instead of 62 to break a filibuster.

Once the Senate changes the rules, it can never go back. 

Bye Bye bipartisanship 

That's a pretty big deal because ending the filibuster erodes bipartisanship in the Senate. 

Don't forget that Supreme Court justices are on the bench for life, so it's pretty important for Senators, elected by the American people, to mostly agree. 

The Senate is supposed to operate differently than the House, where the majority party has all the power and can muscle through pretty much any legislation. 

Slippery slope 

Senate Democrats already chipped away at the filibuster in 2013 when they went nuclear and changed the rules for confirming Cabinet nominees. 

If Republicans do the same now for Supreme Court nominations, it's just one step closer to getting rid of the filibuster entirely. 

"I'm convinced it's a slipper slope," Sen. John McCain said, according to The Hill. 

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