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Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee forced the delay of a vote on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Monday. The one-week delay in sending the nomination to the full Senate comes as the partisan battle lines over his final confirmation votes begin to harden.
At least 19 Democrats have come out in opposition to Gorsuch and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that he will filibuster the nominee, which means he’ll force a 60-vote threshold once it clears the committee.
With Republicans holding 52 seats, they will need at least eight Democrats to vote with them under the current rules to send the nominee forward for a final confirmation vote that would then require a simple majority.
But Republicans do have the extreme option of employing the “nuclear” option -- a change of Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was the latest Monday afternoon that she will oppose Gorsuch and supports a filibuster.
"It matters that this person get more than a bare minimum of votes in the U.S. Senate," Hirono said. "It just shows how shortsighted and political they want to make this process."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet tipped his hand on whether he is willing to do that, and it’s not clear that he will have to make that decision as there are still 30 Democrats who haven't said how they will vote. A change in the rules would become the norm for future Supreme Court nominations, taking away the minority party's ability to mount a challenge to the lifetime appointments.
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Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., predicts it is “almost certain” that Republicans will go “nuclear.”
“In talking to friends on both sides of the aisle we’ve got a lot of senators concerned about where we’re headed. There’s Republicans still very mad at us over the 2013 change to the filibuster rule, we’re mad at them about shutting down the government, they’re mad at us about Gorsuch, and we are not headed in a good direction,” Coons, a member of the Judiciary committee, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
But Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said he's "not inclined" to support a filibuster. His spokesperson told NBC News that Leahy hasn't yet made up his mind.
President Donald Trump has encouraged Republicans to change the Senate rules. Sen. Schumer says that President Donald Trump should pick a new nominee that can obtain enough support.
“To my Republican friends who think that if Judge Gorsuch fails to reach 60 votes we ought to change the rules I say: if this nominee cannot earn 60 votes, a bar met by each of President Obama’s nominees, and President Bush’s last two nominees, the answer isn’t to change the rules – it’s to change the nominee,” Schumer said.
Democrats’ action to delay today's committee vote was expected. It's a tactic within committee rules that they also used to slow down the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General earlier this year. The committee will vote on Gorsuch on Monday, April 3 and his nomination is expected to go to the Senate floor the following day.
Republicans hope he is passed out of the Senate before they go on their two-week Easter recess, which starts April 7.
The committee concluded four days of confirmation hearings on Thursday where Gorsuch underwent two full days of questioning by senators. Nothing explosive emerged but Democrats expressed concerns about his judicial leanings that they said often sided with corporations over people and echoed conservative ideology. They also remain angry over the blockade against former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, who didn't even receive a hearing under the GOP-controlled Senate last year.
When the committee does vote next week, on Monday April 3, it is likely to be along a party line vote.
After his confirmation hearing concluded, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and head of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement, “If you’d filibuster Judge Gorsuch, it’s obvious you’d filibuster anybody.”
“It was a brilliant display before our committee. His testimony, and the testimony of those who actually know him, should create a dilemma for anybody who is desperate for a reason to vote no, because if you’re voting on qualifications and not politics, you’d vote yes,” Grassley said.