Merkley calls ‘nuclear option’ a ‘knife into the heart’ of the republic

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley didn’t mince words in attacking the change in rules put in place by Senate Republicans to push through the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, calling the move a “judicial coup.”

Democratic lawmakers successfully filibustered the nomination Thursday morning, but it was a foregone conclusion. Shortly after, Republican members of the Senate invoked what has come to be known as the “nuclear option,” wherein a rule change skirts the 60-vote majority formerly needed to move the nomination forward.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky defended the parliamentary maneuver saying that Democrats had forced his hand after refusing to nominate a highly qualified candidate.

“This is the latest escalation in the left’s never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet, and it cannot and will not stand,” McConnell said. “This will be the first, and last, partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee.”

The rule change brought swift condemnation from Democrats and Republicans alike.

“I fear that someday we will regret what we are about to do. In fact, I am confident we will,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “It is imperative we have a functioning Senate where the rights of the minority are protected regardless of which party is in power at the time.”

“We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, minority leader.

Some of the most pointed criticism, however, came from Merkley, who staged a 15-hour speechathon in the days leading up to Thursday’s rule change.

“Today, Senate Republicans completed the judicial coup they launched last February. For the first time in our nation’s history, a Supreme Court seat has been stolen. In doing so, they have deeply damaged the integrity of the Senate and the Supreme Court itself,” Merkley said in a statement. “McConnell and his team have put a knife into the heart of our ‘We the People’ republic.”

Merkley said Thursday’s rules change just the latest in a string of Republican slights that began shortly after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“Let’s be clear: the Republicans already detonated the nuclear option when Majority Leader McConnell announced within hours of Justice Scalia’s death that the Senate majority would refuse to consider any nominee put forward by President Obama. What we saw today was the continued fallout from that nuclear option, and it will only lead our nation further down the path of division and partisanship,” Merkley said.

“The primary driver of the majority’s decision to steal the Senate seat was to sustain the flow of dark money that is corrupting our elections,” he continued. “The deed is done.”