McConnell tees up Thursday Supreme Court showdown
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) is paving the way for the fight over Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination to come to a head on Thursday. 

The Republican leader filed cloture on President Trump's pick Tuesday evening, setting up an initial vote for Thursday.

McConnell urged Democrats earlier Tuesday to back down from their filibuster threat, saying they could still "do the right thing."

“History will be watching," he said from the Senate floor. "And the future of the Senate will hang on their choice.”

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Gorsuch is expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to overcome Thursday's procedural hurdle. 

Only four Democrats have said they will support Gorsuch on the initial step, but he needs eight total to get 60 votes. 

Top Democrats signaled on Tuesday that Republicans, not their own caucus, need to back down and put forward another Supreme Court nominee who can garner more support from Democrats.

"No one is making our Republican colleagues change the rules," Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE said. "No one is forcing Sen. McConnell to change the rules. He's doing it at his own volition." 

Republicans appear resigned to needing to go "nuclear" to allow Gorsuch and future nominees to get approved to the Supreme Court by a simple majority.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) warned that it's a "slippery slope" to nixing the filibuster altogether.

"Benjamin Franklin somewhere is turning over," he told reporters.

McCain said last week that he was talking with senators in both parties to try to avoid using the "nuclear option" to change the rules. But he poured cold water on chances of a last-minute deal on Tuesday, saying "we were trying to get eight [senators] and we didn't succeed."

McConnell's move on Tuesday comes after the Senate voted largely along party lines to to proceed to Gorsuch's nomination.

Only four Democratic lawmakers — Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Wealthy outsiders threaten to shake up GOP Senate primaries MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (Ind.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Schumer downplays shutdown chances over DACA fight MORE (Colo.) — voted with Republicans to formally start debate.