There was much hand wringing over Senator McConnell being forced to invoke the constitutional option today to end the first successful partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee, but partisan filibusters of judicial nominees are not a longstanding Senate tradition. It began with now-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's filibuster of Miguel Estrada (who was opposed in large part because he was a conservative Latino):
In a world of instant gratification that too often rewards boastful rhetoric over definitive accomplishments, Mitch McConnell stands out for his patience. The Senate majority leader expends political capital with ruthless efficiency, using it only when it can accomplish precisely what he intends. McConnell doesn’t start many fights; he finishes them.
As the Senate moves toward confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, that is exactly what is happening: McConnell is ending a fight that a young senator named Chuck Schumer started nearly 15 years ago by rallying the first-ever partisan filibuster of a nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court: Miguel Estrada. Previously, the Senate’s “advise and consent” role was vigorously deployed with fierce partisan tensions but ultimately settled with simple up-or-down majority votes. . . .
Predictably, the misuse of the filibuster led to an existential threat to the filibuster itself. To confirm President Bush’s embattled judicial nominees, then-Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened the “nuclear option,” that is, changing Senate rules to ban the use of the filibuster in certain instances. A bipartisan group of senators known as the “gang of 14” de-escalated the situation by voting to confirm most of the filibustered nominees, staving off such a fundamental change to Senate procedure. . . .
In the most ironic plot twist, the man who started it all returns to the stage in the final scene. . . . Nearly 15 years after Schumer started this fight, he will have a front-row seat when McConnell finishes it. A uniquely perfect way for this story to end. Regrettable, perhaps; inevitable, to be sure.
It is important to remember that what happened today on the Senate floor did not abolish the legislative filibuster. While also not enshrined in the Constitution, the legislative filibuster has a much longer tradition and has always been treated differently by senators.
So did Leader McConnell "blow up the Senate" today? No. He simply completed a process started by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013 to restore the Senate to standard operating procedure prior to 2002.