How The Nuclear Option Really Works, Step by Step

Here’s how the nuclear option works. (and no I’m not talking about nuking North Korea)


Step 1:  Sen. McConnell filed a motion for a vote of approval on the nominee Neil Gorsuch. Step 2: Sen. Schumer notified the Chair of the Democrat’s intent to filibuster that motion. At that time, the Democrats officially began their SCOTUS nominee filibuster. Sometime shortly after the filibuster began, Step 3: Sen. McConnell filed a motion for Cloture. Cloture is the procedure to end debate in order to vote. In this case–for Gorsuch.


According to Senate rules, that motion for Cloture has to “bake” for 24 hours. Which means today was basically an idle day in this process, allowing various senators to take the floor and five opinions about the nominee or anything else which might have tripped their trigger.

NOW, here is where it gets really interesting.


Step 4: One hour after the Senate has convened Thursday morning, the senate will take up the motion for Cloture and proceed to vote on whether to end the filibuster or not. A YAY vote indicates the voter wants to end it. A NAY vote says hold your horses. In order for the YAY votes (Republicans) to win, they need 60 votes. This is, and has been senate precedent for many decades. (Remember this, I will come back to it shortly) In order for the NAY votes to succeed (Democrats) they need 41 votes. As of now they have 44.

If the NAYs have over 40 then the filibuster will continue. Apparently, they have the 40 votes, so bobs your uncle. Now, this is where it gets a little dicey. Sen. McConnell will vote NAY with the Democrats because the NAYs technically are the minority vote even thought the Democrats got what they wanted. this is a very integral piece of this puzzle.

Sept 5: Because the bourbon sipping Majority Leader voted in the minority, by Senate rules, he is allowed to request a re-vote. Which he promptly did.

So here is where we are: Notion for Cloture fails because Reps don’t get 60 votes. McConnell having voted NAY with the Dems, request the Chair have a re-vote on the motion for Cloture.

However, as he makes this request, he’ll add a rider. Sort of like, “Mr. President, I request a re-vote on this motion for Cloture, and furthermore I request that only a simple majority of 51 votes is required. 

Step 6: Here is Sen. Schumer’s cue: “Mr. President, I object. Blah, Blah, Blah. Senate precedent is 60 votes to pass the motion for Cloture, not a simple majority. I ask you deny my good friend, the senator from Kentucky’s request for a re-vote needing only a simple 51 votes to pass.”

Step 7: This is where the Chair has his say: “Sen. McConnell’s request for a re-vote needing only a simple 51 votes, is denied due to the fact that senate precedents requires 60 votes for Cloture.


Step 8: Where upon McConnell steps right up and makes a motion to overturn the ruling of the Chair. That vote only requires 51 votes. THIS IS THE NUCLEAR OPTION VOTE.

So while the Press and assorted other news broadcast are bannering “Breaking News” streams across the bottom of your screen, we will see some 51-53 senators vote to overturn the Chair’s ruling which means we’ve just seen the bomb and lived to tell about it.

Step 9: After the vote to overturn the ruling of the Chair, and the nuclear option is invoked, Sen. McConnell will again request a re-vote on the motion for Cloture. Because the nuclear option has been approved, the motion will now only require 51 votes to pass. It will pass and business will be over for Thursday. Now on to Friday night.


Step 10: By Senate rules, there must be 30 hours between a successful vote on Cloture and the actual vote to confirm the nominee. What this means is the actual vote to confirm SCOTUS nominee Gorsuch will come late late Friday night. But it will come. McConnell wants this done and over with. Besides, he’ll need time to schedule his victory dance on all of the Sunday shows.

It’s all very arcane and dull. The real entertainment starts when Schumer and company link arms, march to the Capitol steps, find as many cameras and microphones as they can and begin pontificating about how McConnell and his partisan thugs have ruined the senate for all time. (that was done a long time ago)You will think they’ve memorized The Book of Revelation by all their apocryphal prophecies.  Good times.

Postscript:  You might hear Dems., and the MSM refer to the nuclear option as “changing the rules of the Senate.” This isn’t true. 67 votes are required to change senate rules. The traditional 60 votes required to end a filibuster is a “senate precedent,” or senate tradition. Changing a senate precedent such as number of votes necessary to end Cloture requires only a simple majority, 51 votes. This is pure spin. Changing a rule seems more dramatic than changing precedent,

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