FEATURED:

Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight

Senators in both parties are gearing up for a showdown over Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) confidently predicted on Tuesday that the Senate would confirm Gorsuch on April 7, before lawmakers leave town for a two-week recess.

But as Democratic opposition grows, leaders are signaling they’re prepared to push the chamber to the edge as President Trump’s pick comes up for a vote — even if it means using the “nuclear option” to change the Senate’s rules.

“We’re going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed,” McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference. “It’ll be an opportunity for the Democrats to invoke cloture. We’ll see where that ends.”

Pressed on if he would have the votes within his conference should Democrats initially block Gorsuch’s nomination, McConnell said he was “confident” the judge will join the Supreme Court.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia MORE (D-N.Y.) returned his own rhetorical fire, arguing that Gorsuch faces a heavy lift to get the 60 votes — including the support of at least eight Democratic senators — he will need to avoid a filibuster.

“It’s going to be a real uphill climb for him to get those 60 votes,” Schumer told reporters.

Facing a mountain of pressure from progressive groups, a growing number of Democrats are coming out against Gorsuch’s nomination.

As of Tuesday evening more than half of the conference has announced opposition. So far, only one senator — Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Toomey to introduce bill broadening background checks for firearms Scott Walker backs West Virginia attorney general in GOP Senate primary MORE (D-W.Va.) — has explicitly said he’ll vote for cloture.

If Republicans can’t get enough Democratic support for Gorsuch’s nomination, they could go nuclear and get rid of the 60-vote filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.

McConnell would need 50 members of his conference to back the change, allowing him to lose two GOP senators and bring in Vice President Pence to break a tie.

No Republican has yet said they wouldn’t support a rules change if Democrats block Gorsuch’s nomination, but a growing number of GOP senators are urging their colleagues to find a way to avoid that fight.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (R-Tenn.) took to the Senate floor on Tuesday, pleading with his colleagues to talk to each other and find agreement.

“I hope somehow or another we’ll have the ability to avoid what I see as something that’s very, very detrimental to the United States, and in the process very detrimental to our country,” he said.

Corker added that unless senators are able to avoid going nuclear, the Senate will eventually turn into a “six-year House term.”

Republican Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (Ariz.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (Maine) are also walking a fine line, refusing to either implicitly support or directly rule out using the nuclear option if Democrats block Gorsuch’s nomination.

“I really hope that it doesn’t come to that,” Collins told reporters. “I don’t want to change the rules and the Senate, and I hope we’re not confronted with that choice.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the Senate nearly went nuclear only to back down. In 2005, the bipartisan “Gang of 14” reached a deal to avoid getting rid of the filibuster on all judicial nominations in return for Democrats limiting which nominees they would try to block.

Collins, McCain and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.) are the only three members of the group left in the Senate.

Manchin, who is up for reelection in a state that Trump won by more than 40 points, signaled on Tuesday that he’s huddling with colleagues about how to preserve the 60-vote procedural threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

“I want to make sure I’m talking to my colleagues and everything and see if we can get to a point where we can prevent from going to, basically a blow up, if you will, the nuclear option,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Manchin confirmed that the red-state lawmaker will help get Gorsuch’s nomination over the procedural threshold.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSenate rejects Trump immigration plan Cramer to announce North Dakota Senate run on Friday Senate Democrats not sold on bipartisan immigration deal MORE (D-N.D.) said separately that Gorsuch should get an “up-or-down vote” but didn’t specifically say she would vote for cloture. She remains undecided on a final vote on his nomination. 

“I’m in the process of reviewing the materials he submitted and testimony from his hearing before the Judiciary Committee while I continue to consider his nomination,” she said.

More mainstream Democrats, including Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGrassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Popular bill to fight drug prices left out of budget deal Judiciary Dems want public hearings with Kushner, Trump Jr. MORE (Vt.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinWashington puts Ethiopia's human rights abusers on notice Overnight Defense: Mattis vows Dreamers in military won't be deported | Pentagon unsure if military parade will be in Washington | Dem bill would block funds for parade Dems introduce bills to block funds for Trump's proposed parade MORE (Md.), are hinting that they would also like to avoid a fight over the nuclear option.

Leahy, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, told a Vermont publication that he isn’t “inclined to filibuster” Gorsuch, but later appeared to walk back his comments.

“Unless #JudgeGorsuch provides REAL answers to written Qs & senators are given ample time for review & debate, he will be filibustered,” he wrote on Twitter.

Cardin said on Tuesday he would vote against Gorsuch’s confirmation but left the door open to helping him overcome the 60-vote procedural hurdle.

“I want to see what accommodations are made,” he said when asked if his opposition to Gorsuch also meant he would vote no on cloture.

He recommended that Schumer and McConnell get together and talk.

Republican leaders haven’t specifically said they would go nuclear on Gorsuch, but they’ve begun to lay the rhetorical groundwork for the decision by accusing Democrats of abusing their power.

“What our colleagues are doing are basically saying that no nominee of President Trump or any Republican nominee is going to get confirmed to the Supreme Court because they are going to require 60 votes to do so,” charged Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas). “This would be unprecedented in our nation’s history.”

Democrats are facing a mountain of pressure from both sides over Gorsuch’s nomination: outside GOP groups are pouring in millions of dollars, while progressive groups charge that supporting Gorsuch would be on par with enabling Trump.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is asking its members to target Leahy over his “squishy” comments, as well as Manchin, warning them both not to support cloture on Gorsuch.

“Voting against the filibuster is the same as voting for Gorsuch. Republicans can easily win a confirmation vote that only takes 50 votes to win. But getting the 60 votes to break the filibuster would be much harder,” they wrote in their email to supporters.

The group also asked their supporters to contact Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann Stabenow10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country At least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE and Gary Peters — who have both announced their opposition to Gorsuch — to thank them and "and tell them we'll get their back if they filibuster Trump's Supreme Court nominee."

- This story was updated at 10:26 a.m.