Top Senate Democrat says unlikely Trump court pick can clear procedural hurdle

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By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate said on Sunday it was unlikely that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch would be able to clear a procedural hurdle to a final vote, even as a third Senate Democrat threw support behind the pick.

Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana, announced he would vote in favor of Gorsuch, calling him in a statement a "qualified jurist who ... is well-respected among his peers."

Donnelly joins Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota as the only Senate Democrats to announce support for President Donald Trump's court pick.

Most other Democrats have made their opposition clear and 36 senators have indicated support for a filibuster of the nomination, which would force Republicans to come up with 60 votes to move forward. Republicans control the Senate 52-48.

"It's highly, highly unlikely that he'll get to 60," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

If the planned filibuster holds, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell would only be able to advance the nomination of the conservative appeals court judge by changing Senate rules so it could be approved by a simple majority.

McConnell, who also appeared on "Meet the Press," declined to rule out that option, and vowed the Senate would confirm Gorsuch one way or another.

"What I can tell you is Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week. How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends," he said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on the nomination on Monday, setting the stage for what McConnell has said will be a vote in the full Senate on Friday.

McConnell declined to say if he had sufficient support among his fellow Republicans to change the Senate's rules.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Andrea Ricci)

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