Partisan showdown expected

FILE - In this March 21, 2017, file photo, Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch explains mutton busting, an event held at rodeos similar to bull riding or bronc riding, in which children ride or race sheep, as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Gorsuch's nomination on April 3. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel is opening a weeklong partisan showdown over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee with Democrats steadily amassing the votes to block Neil Gorsuch and force Republicans to unilaterally change long-standing rules to confirm him.

The Republican-led Judiciary Committee meets today and is expected to back Gorsuch and send his nomination to the full Senate, most likely on a near-party line vote. Intent on getting Trump’s pick on the high court, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is likely to change Senate rules so that Gorsuch can be confirmed with a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber, instead of the 60-voter threshold.

“Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, adding, “how that happens really depends on our Democratic friends. How many of them are willing to oppose cloture on a partisan basis to kill a Supreme Court nominee.”

So far, 36 Democrats and one independent have announced they will vote to block the nomination on a procedural cloture vote — a parliamentary step to advance a legislative issue — and oppose the choice. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who faces a tough re-election in a state Trump won handily, announced his opposition on Sunday.