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Senate Votes to Proceed With Debate on Gorsuch Nomination

The Senate on Tuesday voted to proceed with debate on U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court, setting up a bitter partisan fight later this week.

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Senate on Tuesday voted to proceed with debate on U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court, setting up a bitter partisan fight later this week.

Lawmakers voted 55-44 on a motion to proceed to debate, with four Democrats joining the entire Republican caucus.

Only a simple majority was necessary for the measure to pass.

The vote came one day after the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Gorsuch's nomination to the Senate floor on a party-line vote.

On Monday, Democrats secured the votes necessary to filibuster the nomination, leading Republicans to vow to do away with a rule that requires 60 votes in the 100-member body for Supreme Court nominees.

Democrats most recently invoked the so-called "nuclear option," eliminating the filibuster for some executive positions in 2013 after Republicans held up judicial appointees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The vote to eliminate the rule requires only a simple majority vote, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday confirmed Republicans have the votes necessary.

"Since you can't have one rule for Democrat presidents and another rule for Republican presidents, this judge will be on the Supreme Court sometime Friday night," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, referring to Republicans' claims that Democrats won't support anyone President Donald Trump picks for the high court.

McConnell is expected to file the procedural vote that will trigger the Democratic filibuster, known as cloture, Tuesday evening. That sets up a vote to limit debate on the nomination, which requires 60 votes to pass, on Thursday.

With Democrats having enough votes to prevent Republicans from clearing that procedural hurdle, that vote is all but decided.  Republicans will then call a special vote that would allow cloture to be invoked with fewer than 60 senators in favor. That special vote would require only majority support to succeed.

The final vote to confirm Gorsuch, which also requires only a majority, would then take place 30 hours after Republicans finally end the filibuster after changing the rules, likely on Friday afternoon.

The filibuster is a tool unique to the Senate that allows a minority of lawmakers to hold up the majority's schedule and some lawmakers, even those who support the change, have raised concerns about what eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees could mean for the body at large.

But McConnell said the change would just move the Senate back to the days when senators would not stand up to filibuster even controversial nominees to the Supreme Court. McConnell promised to keep in place the cloture requirement for legislation, saying nobody in either party wants to change that procedure.

Democrats are betting their base will reward them for standing up to Gorsuch at all costs and that voters will punish Republicans for altering years of Senate precedent to move through a justice nominated by a highly unpopular president.

"They will lose if they do it," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Tuesday. " It would symbolize to the American people that Mitch McConnell would virtually do anything, anything, even hurting the Senate to get his way on the court."

Instead, Democrats have suggested Trump should reach out to them and pick a nominee with broad support on both sides.

"Nobody is forcing McConnell to go this route, the nuclear option route," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said on Tuesday. "As our leader has said, we should come together and come up with a nominee who would get more than the bare minimum of votes."

Democrats united against Gorsuch in the week following his nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Though they have raised a number of concerns about Gorsuch, from his textualist judicial philosophy to their claims that he sides with corporations over regular people on the bench, Democrats have struggled to make one specific charge stick.

Their opposition has also been built on Republicans' move last year to deny D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland a hearing after President Barack Obama nominated him to the court following Justice Antonin Scalia's death.

"We did not get our nominee when Senator McConnell broke 230 years of Senate precedent and didn't even allow Judge Garland a hearing and a vote," Schumer told reporters Tuesday. "Now Senate Republicans aren't going to get the necessary votes for their nominee, who was handpicked by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation and refused to answer questions about his judicial philosophy."

"We lost one, they lost one," Schumer added.

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