WASHINGTON- The Senate Judiciary committee voted 11-9 to send the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the full Senate Monday afternoon, even as Democrats secured enough votes to filibuster the nomination on the Senate floor.
Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., became the 41st Democrat to say he would vote to block the nomination. But Republicans, with a 52-48 majority, have vowed to change the Senate's rules if necessary to install him without requiring 60 votes.
Gorsuch's final 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. "If we have to, we will change the rules, and it looks like we will have to," Sen. Lindsey Graham said.
The panel's 20 members began a last round of angry debate between Republicans determined to confirm Gorsuch to the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February 2016 and Democrats still seething at the GOP's refusal to consider former President Baraxck Obama's choice last year.
The expected party-line vote will be a major step toward restoring the conservative majority on the Supreme Court lost last year when Scalia's death led to a political standoff involving all three branches of government.
The committee vote comes just 62 days after President Trump nominated the 49-year-old federal appeals court judge from Colorado - a vote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, for 293 days last year.
"Judge Gorsuch is eminently qualified. He's a mainstream judge," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee chairman, said. "He's the picture of the kind of justice we should have on the Supreme Court."
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee's top Democrat, said it was "not the usual nomination," citing Republicans' blockade of Garland as well as conservatives' spending upwards of $17 million on advertising against Garland and for Gorsuch.
For the last few days, an increasing number of Democrats - even those from states that Trump won - have announced they'll support a filibuster. Only four Democrats have opposed requiring 60 votes, the latest being Gorsuch's home-state Democratic senator, Michael Bennet.
One of the last Democrats to decide how to vote was Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., former chairman of the judiciary committee, who has voted to confirm six previous Republican presidents' nominees. On Monday, he said, "My conscience will not allow me to ratify the majority leader's actions…. I will not, I cannot, support advancing this nomination."
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.