WASHINGTON — Republicans will take a major step Monday toward restoring the conservative majority on the Supreme Court lost last year when Justice Antonin Scalia's death led to a political standoff involving all three branches of government.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on the nomination of federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch just 62 days after his nomination by President Trump — a vote Republicans denied President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, for 293 days last year.
That will set the stage for a showdown before week's end in which Gorsuch's confirmation isn't really in doubt, but how it is achieved will have a profound impact on the high court, the Senate and the 2018 elections.
"We're going to confirm Judge Gorsuch this week," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox News Sunday. "The way in which that occurs is in the hands of the Democratic minority."
Democrats still seething over Republicans' refusal to consider Garland's nomination will try to block a final vote on Gorsuch unless he can get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Republicans, with a 52-48 majority, have vowed to change the Senate's arcane rules if necessary.
McConnell said Sunday it was not yet clear if there were enough Democrats to stop a filibuster and would not rule out changing the rules. An increasing number of Democrats — even those from states that Trump won — have announced they'll support a filibuster, a bad sign for Republicans hoping to make a deal.
In the middle of the storm is Gorsuch, 49, a folksy but scholarly Coloradan whose résumé and reverence for the Constitution, laws and precedents have captivated Republicans and unnerved Democrats.