Senate Democrats look to have enough votes to filibuster Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court, forcing Republicans to consider whether to change Senate rules to confirm President Donald Trump's choice.
On Monday, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware became the 41st Democrat to announce he would support the filibuster, according to counts by NBC News and other outlets. It would mean Republicans cannot reach the 60 votes needed to avoid the tactic if no senators change their minds. If the count holds, the GOP must decide if it will change Senate rules, or trigger the so-called nuclear option, to make it so that its members can limit debate with only a simple majority vote.
Republicans hold 52 seats in the 100-member chamber and three Democrats have said they will support Gorsuch, so the Colorado appeals judge will likely clear a majority-vote threshold. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested he will change Senate rules if needed, a move Trump has backed.
"Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week. How that happens will really depend on what will happen with our Democratic friends," McConnell told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Gorsuch's nomination on Monday in an 11-9 party line vote. McConnell said he expects Gorsuch to get confirmed on Friday.
Speaking to reporters after the Judiciary Committee vote, Republican senators including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas said they would support the rules change if Democrats filibuster.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer stressed Monday that the president still backs the ryles change but said the decision of whether to seek it is up to McConnell. He called the potential decision to filibuster a "dangerous precedent."
Changing the rules would have potentially far-reaching implications in the Senate, which has found itself locked in partisan battles over nominees in recent years. The move may make it easier for presidents of either party to push through heavily ideological or unpopular nominees, as they will need less broad support.
In 2013, when Democrats held the Senate majority, they changed the chamber's rules to only require a simple majority for non-Supreme Court judicial nominations and Cabinet officials.
Democrats raised concerns that Gorsuch could be too friendly to corporations and may allow limits on political contributions to erode. In announcing their opposition to the 49-year-old appeals judge, many Democrats also said he was evasive when answering questions in his confirmation hearing.
Republicans' decision not to hold a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated for the same seat during his last year in office, also drove some of the partisan entrenchment in Gorsuch's process.