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Trump has a two-word message for McConnell on his Supreme Court pick

Alex Wong/Getty Images

As Democrats are torn over whether to filibuster President Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick, President Trump has sent Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a two-word message: "Go nuclear."

"If we end up with the same gridlock that they've had in Washington for the last — longer than eight years, in all fairness to President Obama, a lot longer than eight years," Trump said Wednesday. "But if we end up with that gridlock, I would say, 'If you can, Mitch, go nuclear.'"

"That would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web. So, I would say, it's up to Mitch, but I would say, 'Go for it,'" he added.

And Trump's not alone. In an interview with Politico just hours before Trump announced Judge Neil Gorsuch as his choice to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the so-called nuclear option is on the table.

"The Democrats are not going to succeed in filibustering the Supreme Court nominee," the senator said. "All procedural options are on the table. The bottom line is we will confirm a strong conservative to replace Justice Scalia."

The "nuclear option" is Washington lingo for a rule change — executed by overruling the parliamentarian with a bare majority rather than with a 67-vote majority normally required for a rules change — that would lower the vote threshold for Gorsuch's confirmation from 60 to a simple majority — 51 — to eliminate the threat of a filibuster. In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) changed the rules to allow a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber to filibuster-proof former President Barack Obama's executive branch appointees and all judicial nominations except the Supreme Court.

McConnell, for his part, has signaled to Trump that he does not want to invoke the nuclear option. He told Politico last week that such a change is "not a presidential decision."

"What I’ve said to him, and I’ve stated publicly and I’ll say today: We’re going to get this nominee confirmed," he said.

While several Democrats have been bullish about their ability to block Gorsuch's appointment to the high court, many on the left have voiced concerns that doing so could backfire, leading the GOP to nuke the filibuster and neuter Democrats' ability to fight later Supreme Court appointments to fill progressive seats, like those of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, and Stephen Breyer, 78.

In addition, Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote in the court, is 80 years old.

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