nuclear option


Definition of nuclear option

1 : the option of using nuclear weapons in war … it is now unimaginable that we would use anything approaching the full measure of our military power (the nuclear option aside) in the wars we fight.— Shelby Steele
2 : an extreme option regarded as a drastic step or last resort The EU has most leverage over countries that are desperate to join. Once in the club, with full voting rights, countries can answer back, leaving their peers with only the nuclear option of trying to expel them.The Economist specifically, US politics : a parliamentary procedure in the U.S. Senate by which the requirement of the affirmative votes of a supermajority of senators is changed to require only a simple majority to invoke cloture in order to stop a filibuster and allow a vote on a matter (such as a judicial nomination) to proceed Since Republicans can't muster the 60 votes necessary to overcome this particular filibuster, they now want to use their authority over Senate procedures to abolish the maneuver itself, at least for judicial nominees. Exercising this "nuclear option," as it is known, would theoretically require the support of just a simple majority of senators, which Republican leaders say they are on the verge of solidifying. — Jonathan Cohn

Examples of nuclear option in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The Leader has said for years that the votes are not there in the Conference to use the nuclear option. Emily Brooks, Washington Examiner, "McConnell kept the filibuster despite heated pressure from Trump," 28 Jan. 2021 There is never a wrong time to invoke the nuclear option and get rid of the filibuster once and for all. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "Mitch McConnell Is Killing the Filibuster," 23 Jan. 2021 In 2017, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the nuclear option to require only 51 votes to confirm a judge to the Supreme Court as well. Grace Segers, CBS News, "Senate Judiciary Committee approves Amy Coney Barrett's nomination," 22 Oct. 2020 Sure, all the flavors kind of crash together in a blur of Italian red sauce, but Capparelli’s gives you the nuclear option of adding jalapeños and anchovies on request. Mike Sutter,, "52 Weeks of Pizza: Capparelli’s on Main restaurant is comfortable with pizza excess," 9 Oct. 2020 If the president rams through his pick despite vociferous calls to wait until after the election, there is a nuclear option. Vanessa Hua,, "As election and Supreme Court battle loom, nut harvesting is a therapeutic escape," 24 Sep. 2020 Majority Leader Harry Reid used the nuclear option in 2013 to confirm lower court judges. Grace Segers, CBS News, "From nomination to confirmation: What's the process of filling a Supreme Court vacancy?," 19 Sep. 2020 Bomb expert Edward Teller brought up the nuclear option against hurricanes several times, most recently in a 1990 speech. Eric Niiler, Wired, "Can a Bubble Net Stop a Hurricane? Some Norwegians Think So," 1 Sep. 2020 The biggest reason for MiLB’s changed tone, three people familiar with the negotiations said, was the growing belief that M.L.B. could exercise its nuclear option, walk away from the existing structure and form its own farm system. James Wagner, New York Times, "Minor League Baseball’s Opposition to Overhaul Softens in Pandemic," 12 May 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nuclear option.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of nuclear option

1962, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about nuclear option

Time Traveler for nuclear option

Time Traveler

The first known use of nuclear option was in 1962

See more words from the same year

Statistics for nuclear option

Last Updated

12 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Nuclear option.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Comments on nuclear option

What made you want to look up nuclear option? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

February 2021 Words of the Day Quiz

  • squirrel in winter
  • Which is a synonym of perdure?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!