Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republican arguments that they have no other option than to "go nuclear" and change Senate rules to seat Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court if Democrats follow through with blocking him is "complete hokum."
"This is not some inevitable showdown," the New York Democrat said. "The Republicans control this body. They can choose to go nuclear or not. The ball is entirely in their court."
The so-called nuclear option would change Senate rules to require only a simple 51-vote majority to confirm Supreme Court justices and would circumvent the need to shut down a filibuster, which requires 60 votes.
In the past, if a president's nominee didn't get enough support for confirmation for whatever reason, the president chose another nominee, he said.
"If it comes to that, that's what the president should do," he said. "If Judge Gorsuch fails to garner 60 votes, the answer isn't to irrevocably change the rules of the Senate. The answer is to change the nominee."
"It's not Gorsuch or bust," he added. "The Republicans are playing a game of unnecessary and dangerous brinksmanship."
Republicans are arguing just the opposite — that it is Democrats who are engaged in unprecedented obstruction by threatening to filibuster Gorsuch, who they say has wide support across the political spectrum in the country's legal community.
Democrats appear to have the votes to sustain a filibuster, according to Democratic aides who say Gorsuch will reach only the mid- to upper-50s on cloture, a procedural motion to move to a final vote.
If Democrats are successful in blocking Gorsuch, it would be the first time a nominee for the Supreme Court was successfully blocked from being seated in this way. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, a pick of former President Lyndon Johnson, faced a successful filibuster when he was chosen to become chief justice, but some senators on both sides of the aisle say that effort doesn't count because he was already a justice on the high court.
Justice Samuel Alito also faced an attempted filibuster in the form of a cloture vote in 2006, but he overcame that by garnering 72 votes on that procedural motion, and went on to be confirmed with 58 votes.