[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/01/art.hatch.gi.jpg caption="Sen. Orrin Hatch says Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor 'will probably be confirmed' barring any 'disqualifying matters.'"]WASHINGTON (CNN) - It is part political reality - and, seemingly, part Republican strategy.
The longest-serving Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee tells CNN Radio that as things stand now, Sonia Sotomayor is headed for a Supreme Court confirmation.
"If there are no otherwise disqualifying matters here, it appears to me she will probably be confirmed," Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Thursday.
Hatch is acknowledging the Senate landscape. Democrats could have 60 votes in the chamber if Minnesota's Al Franken is seated, and they now hold a 12 to 7 majority on the Judiciary Committee.
But as he speaks to Sotomayor's strength, Hatch is also digging the first Republican battle line on her nomination: the schedule.
"If the Democrats don't overplay their hand and don't try to rush this too much, the process will go well, they'll be better off, she'll get confirmed," he said, again adding that is if no new concerns come to light.
(A report on the Republican battle line over Sotomayor after the jump)
The Utah senator and fellow committee Republicans Jon Kyl and John Cornyn, are pushing hard for a lengthened timeframe for debate. They say it is almost impossible to review Sotomayor's extensive record, debate her nomination and hold a Senate vote by August, as the White House hopes.
The opposition party usually fights for extensive time to try and find any hidden issues in a Supreme Court nominee's record. Hatch says senators need three months to consider Sotomayor, and that a vote should come after the Senate's August break, in September.
The White House wants confirmation before August, so that Sotomayor could set up her office and be ready for the Supreme Court's next term when it starts in October. A September confirmation vote would also complicate Democratic fights on health care and energy, which could then be at critical points.
But on the basic scheduling argument, Hatch insists a September Senate vote would still get Sotomayor on the bench in time for the new court session. The senator continued his strategic warning to Democrats.
"If they do it the right way," he said, "and there is no otherwise disqualifying feature to this, it is highly likely she is going to be confirmed as the ninth justice on the Supreme Court in time to sit on the court on the first Monday of October."
These are the strongest statements yet from any Republican about Sotomayor's chances of confirmation.
But they come with a political threat - a warning from Hatch that a vote before August would draw Republican fire.