McConnell tees up Thursday Supreme Court showdown
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Trump expects to nominate woman to replace Ginsburg next week Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral 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 SchumerChuck SchumerVideo of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year Pelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg 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 McCainMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day McConnell urges GOP senators to 'keep your powder dry' on Supreme Court vacancy McSally says current Senate should vote on Trump nominee 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 HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Gardner on court vacancy: Country needs to mourn Ginsburg 'before the politics begin' Barrett seen as a front-runner for Trump Supreme Court pick MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Barrett seen as a front-runner for Trump Supreme Court pick Ex-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden MORE (Ind.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE (Colo.) — voted with Republicans to formally start debate.