Neil Gorsuch testifies before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination as Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 22, 2017.
Ron Sachs—AP
By Tessa Berenson
Updated: April 3, 2017 2:40 PM ET

The judiciary committee approved Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the first hurdle in a week heading towards a political showdown and a permanent change to Senate rules.

Gorsuch passed the committee Monday along strictly partisan lines, with all 11 Republican members voting for him and the nine Democratic members voting against.

But the expected recommendation of Gorsuch out of a Republican-led committee wasn’t the most significant event of the day. That came with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons announced he would vote against cloture, which ends debate on the nomination. He was the 41st senator to do so and the final vote the Democrats needed to sew up a successful filibuster.

As the Senate now confronts the prospect of the first-ever partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee, Republicans have signaled that they’re prepared to trigger the so-called nuclear option, which will change Senate rules and allow them to confirm Gorsuch on a simple majority without garnering the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. (Democrats freed the nuclear option genie in 2013, when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid implemented it for lower court nominees.)

Throughout the Monday committee vote, senators from both parties lamented the imminent rule change and the rancorous partisanship that brought the body to this point.

“I think it’s obvious that the Senate is not a healthy institution,” said Republican Sen. Ben Sasse.

“I fear the Senate I would be defending no longer exists,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.

“We simply cannot move this committee or this body forward if we endlessly obsess over past grievances and revenge,” said Coons.

“This will be the last person that will be subject to a filibuster,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, “because the Senate traditions are going to change over this man based on the times in which we live.”

Republican Sen. John Kennedy warned that a partisan filibuster and the nuclear option could turn the Senate into “a Quentin Tarantino version of Groundhog Day.”

Both parties may be assigning blame and assessing this week’s long term effect on Senate tradition. But despite the drama, Republicans remain confident about Gorsuch’s prospects as his nomination now heads to the floor. Texas Sen. John Cornyn closed his remarks Monday: “I am proud to say that this good man, and this good judge, who has offered himself to serve our country on the United States Supreme Court, will be confirmed by the end of this week.”

Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@timeinc.com.

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