Senate showdown on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch expected this week

US Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch testifies during the third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, on March 22, 2017.
US Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch testifies during the third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, on March 22, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A US Senate panel on Monday (April 3) is expected to advance President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to a full Senate vote later in the week, setting up a political showdown as Democrats seek to block his confirmation.

Republicans hold an 11-9 majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering Gorsuch's nomination, and control the full Senate by 52-48. But Democrats are planning to use a procedural hurdle called a filibuster that requires 60 votes to allow a confirmation vote.

So far, 37 Democrats have backed such a move. To date, only three Democrats have said they support Gorsuch.

If confirmed to fill a vacancy created by the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, Gorsuch, 49, an appeals court judge, would restore the nine-seat high court's conservative majority, fulfilling one of Trump's top campaign promises.

Republican Senate leaders insist Gorsuch will be confirmed on Friday whatever the Democrats do, enabling the Republican president to deliver on a major campaign pledge.

"What I can tell you is Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week. How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends," Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said on "Meet the Press" that it was "highly, highly unlikely" that Republicans would get 60 votes.

Republicans need to win over eight Democrats in total to block a filibuster. If they cannot do so, McConnell can still force a vote by changing long-standing Senate rules to allow for a simple majority vote, a move that Trump has urged. The precedent-breaking move would make it easier for Supreme Court justices to be confirmed in future.

The Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn, said on Sunday that the expected filibuster was a "last-gasp" effort by Democrats.

"If they filibuster Neil Gorsuch, they are going to filibuster everyone that this president might propose," Cornyn said on the CBS program "Face the Nation."

Democrats say they oppose Gorsuch because of his judicial record on a Denver-based US appeals court over the past decade. They say he favours corporations over workers and would support lifting restrictions on election spending.

Some Democrats also complained that during his two days of testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch failed to give straightforward answers to questions.

Democrats are also still angry that the Republican-led Senate refused last year to consider then-Democratic President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to fill Scalia's seat.

Gorsuch, if confirmed, would immediately be thrust into the midst of the high court's term, which runs from October to June. If his nomination wins approval on Friday, he would be able to participate in the court's next round of oral arguments, starting on April 17.