Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that there are enough Republican votes to invoke the "nuclear option" and seat Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court by changing Senate precedent to end the filibuster for high court nominees.
Despite McConnell's claim, several GOP senators left a closed-door lunch meeting grumbling about their leader's decision to move forward with the plan to seat Gorsuch in the face of a Democratic filibuster.
"We're moving forward with the Gorsuch nomination for the Supreme Court, which should be wrapped up some time Friday," McConnell told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "It appears as if cloture will not be invoked, but we'll find out on Thursday. But either way, we'll be moving to confirming Judge Gorsuch on Friday."
Asked if Republicans have enough GOP votes within their conference to go nuclear, McConnell said only: "Uh, yeah."
Other Republican leaders repeatedly declined to say whether they have enough Republican votes to change the Senate rules, and said only that they have the votes to confirm Gorsuch.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Republicans' second-highest ranking leader and conference's top vote-counter, said only that Gorsuch "will be confirmed" when asked if they have the votes to change the Senate rules in order to shut down the Democratic filibuster.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., also avoided several reporters' questions on whether they have the votes to change Senate precedent to bar filibusters on high court judges. Thune said only that the decision on whether GOP leaders go "nuclear" is up to Democrats and whether they back down from their filibuster blocking Gorsuch.
"We have the votes to confirm Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court," Thune said several times in response to questions on whether they had enough votes to change the rules.
Pressed further, Thune said: "The real nuclear option is filibustering a Supreme Court nominee — it's never been done before when you think about it. This is unprecedented."
Thune also said "it's largely up to Democrats" whether there could be last-minute negotiations to avert a Senate rules change to seat Gorsuch.
"I don't know any Democrat who at this point is suggesting that we have these discussions" or negotiations to try to avert the showdown, he added.
The GOP leaders' remarks came after a closed-door meeting with their conference. Some Republican senators left the meeting grousing about the state of play on Gorsuch and Republican leaders' willingness to blow up the Senate rules to seat him.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was mum when several reporters asked him if there was any chance to avoid going nuclear and what he thought about the decision.
"Why don't you talk to some of the other enthusiasts," Corker said curtly when pressed about how the meeting went and whether he still had serious reservations about going "nuclear."
Corker is one of at least four Republican senators who are either very uncomfortable with the push to change the Senate rules to seat Gorsuch. Along with Vice President Mike Pence, McConnell needs two of four hold-out senators to get the 51 votes needed to set a new precedent: Corker, as well as Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
McCain, a longtime opponent of going nuclear, this week said he would vote for such a change to Senate rules if his vote is needed. Collins Monday night signalled that she "may" have to vote to change the rules but doesn't want to.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., another senator who has expressed serious reservations about going nuclear, wouldn't talk about what was discussed in Tuesday's meeting. Instead, he argued that the onus is on Democrats for forcing Republicans into the situation.
"There are a number of Democrats who I think would just as soon not do this – that are opposed to this position and would vote their conscience if their leadership wasn't strong-arming them," he said.