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Republicans Inch Toward Estrada Vote

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said Tuesday that Republicans will vote to break the Democratic filibuster against Miguel Estrada, President Bush's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

"We're hopeful this will focus some pressure on some key senators and key states," Santorum told reporters during a conference call. "This will be one of many cloture votes."

Santorum said the vote will occur Thursday. He predicted Republicans would lose and that at least one more vote to break the filibuster would occur next week. He said he hoped Republicans would muster 55 votes of the 60 needed to break the filibuster.

Santorum said Republicans had to move to a cloture vote — a procedural vote to end continuous debate on the pending business — because nearly four weeks of work on Estrada, who went before the Supreme Court on behalf of President Bush after the disputed 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, had failed to move his nomination forward.

"At some point you have to change strategies," Santorum said. "This does set a dangerous precedent. They've changed the rules. It leads to a real constitutional crisis. They could end up filibustering all of these folks."

Santorum said the Senate GOP leadership "will go onto other business" on the Senate calendar some time next week. Among the items pending are the Moscow Treaty, a bill to ban partial-birth abortion and a House-passed bill to ban cloning.

Asked how long Republicans would fight for Estrada, Santorum said, "I can't say how long. But if we cave, it will be a notch on their gunbelts."

Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.