Associated Press - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., deployed the 'nuclear option' on Thursday to clear the way for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch.
The change to parliamentary rules lowers the threshold to a simple majority. The so-called 'nuclear option' gets its name from its probable impact on Senate traditions of bi-partisanship.
After the rules change, Gorsuch is expected to be confirmed Friday.
The move comes after Democrats successfully filibustered Gorsuch's nomination with 41 senators voting no.
It takes 60 votes to clear parliamentary hurdles and set up an up-or-down vote on the nominee.
This procedural maneuver has recent precedent. In 2013, Democrats were in the majority under the leadership of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and upset about the blockage of President Barack Obama's nominees to a powerful appellate court. Democrats pushed through a rules change lowering the vote threshold on all nominees except for the Supreme Court from 60 to a simple majority.
The Supreme Court was exempted as part of a deal bringing along Democrats reluctant to change the rules.
At the time, McConnell warned Democrats the strategy would backfire: "I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you will regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think."
Before 1975, it was even tougher for presidents to get their nominations through because two-thirds of the senators present and voting had to agree to move forward.
Such a rules change on Supreme Court nominees would be a momentous change for the Senate, which traditionally operates via bipartisanship and consent from all senators. Some believe it could begin to unravel Senate traditions at a hyper-partisan moment in politics and perhaps end up in the complete elimination of the filibuster even for legislation, which would mean an entirely different Senate from the one that's existed for decades.
Senate experts note that the filibuster is not enshrined in the Constitution and that filibustering nominees is a relatively recent phenomenon. Cloture - the procedural motion to end a filibuster - was attempted for the first time on a nominee in 1968 after President Lyndon Johnson tapped Abe Fortas as chief justice of the U.S., according to the Congressional Research Service.
The cloture attempt failed, and the nomination was withdrawn.
McConnell is an institutionalist who made clear he did not favor invoking the nuclear option and was doing so grudgingly; he has repeatedly said Gorsuch would be confirmed.