President Donald Trump's choice to fill an open seat on the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is nearing the end of his confirmation process, but how senators vote Thursday in a series of procedural but consequential increments will ultimately decide if Gorsuch will be seated.
Here is a rough guide of what we expect on the Senate floor Thursday related to the Democratic filibuster of Gorsuch's nomination and, as Republicans have vowed to do, here's how GOP leaders are expected to use the "nuclear option" to advance the judge to a final confirmation vote over fierce Democratic opposition.
Timing is not exact, because there are procedural steps both parties could choose to take or not take that would impact the floor process and drastically affect the schedule.
Here's how it works procedurally:
At 10 a.m. Thursday, the Senate convenes -- senators will do the prayer to open Thursday's business, as well as the Pledge of Allegiance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer should do their opening remarks. Additional debate by senators on Gorsuch is expected during this first hour.
One hour after convening, around 11 a.m. -- The Senate casts first vote to break the Democratic filibuster. Republicans will need eight Democrats to join them to get the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. More than 45 Democrats have said they will filibuster, meaning this vote is expected to fail. This first vote could take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to complete.
Next -- McConnell will take a series of procedural steps to position the Senate to re-vote on that same motion to break the filibuster. Usually, these steps are done quickly by unanimous consent, but because Democrats are angry and protesting, they could force multiple roll-call votes to do this. A majority vote is needed to approve these motions. Democrats could take other steps -- like multiple parliamentary inquiries and possibly other roll-call votes -- to try to stall the process but they can't ultimately prevent a vote on Gorsuch.
Next -- Once McConnell has finally positioned to revote to break the filibuster, he will make a point of order that it should take 51 votes instead of 60 to overcome a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. There will then be a roll-call vote to affirm that position. This is the nuclear option. A majority vote is needed for this pass. Not all GOP senators have said they will support the nuclear option -- such as Sens. Bob Corker and Susan Collins -- so this is one to watch carefully, although Senate observers do expect it to pass. Vice President Mike Pence is supposed to be available to break a tie if needed.
Next -- Once the nuclear option is completed, the Senate will cast a second vote to break the Gorsuch filibuster at the new, lower 51-vote threshold.
Next -- Once the filibuster is broken, Senate rules allow for up to 30 hours of additional debate time before a final vote on Gorsuch's confirmation. It's possible but not expected that Democrats will yield back some of that time. The final vote is expected sometime Friday evening.
Next -- If Gorsuch wins a majority of senators on the final vote, as he's widely expected to do, he can be sworn in, though an exact time for that has not yet been made public.