The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court, putting President Trump on the cusp of his first -- and potentially only -- win during his first 100 days.
In a party line vote, the committee's eleven Republicans prevailed over their nine Democratic colleagues in a preview of the fraught partisan fight that awaits the full Senate before Gorsuch's confirmation vote set to occur by the end of the week.
"This nominee we’re voting on today is a judge’s judge. He’s a picture of the kind of Justice we should have on the Supreme Court," said Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called Gorsuch "a superbly qualified nominee."
Committee Democrats continued their criticism of Gorsuch as a rigid ideologue during his decade on the federal appeals court and an evasive witness during his confirmation hearings two weeks ago.
"Unfortunately Gorsuch's answers were so diluted with ambiguity one could not see where he stood even on big and long settled cases," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the committee's ranking member.
The Democratic opposition is also payback for the GOP's nearly year-long refusal, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to hold hearings or a vote for Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee for the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat that Gorsuch may fill by week's end.
"My conscience will not allow me to ratify the Majority Leader's actions. Not last year, not this year. I will not, I cannot support advancing this nomination," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.
Senate rules permit a minority of 41 senators to block Supreme Court nominees from getting a confirmation vote, and the number of Democrats supporting the filibuster inched upwards towards that number until Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, clinched it.
"I am not ready to end debate," Sen. Coons said.
But Majority Leader McConnell, along with Judiciary Committee Republicans, aren't waiting for Coons or any other Democrat to be ready.
"We will not have a successful filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee because if we have to, we will change the rules, and it looks like we're going to have to," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.
That rule change, or the so-called nuclear option, would eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, and allow Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, to confirm Gorsuch in an up-or-down vote McConnell has planned for Friday.
Four Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Michael Bennet of Colorado, have all said they would vote to confirm Gorsuch.