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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

 

WashPost: Debate of Controversial Judicial Nominee Begins - May 18

Wednesday, 11:42 AM EDT

Frist Rejects Latest Attempt to Avoid Showdown Over Filibuster Rule Change

By Jesse J. Holland, The Associated Press

Concluding it was time to act, the Republican-controlled Senate began debating one of President Bush's most contested judicial nominations Wednesday in a showdown over whether the White House can place like-minded judges on the federal bench over the objection of minority Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., called the Democratic blockade of seven Bush U.S. Appeals Court nominees "radical," and said one of those judges, Texas judge Priscilla Owen, should be confirmed despite Democratic accusations that she is a "judicial activist" who pursues an ideological agenda.

"Vote for the nominee. Vote against the nominee," Frist said. "Confirm the nominee. Reject the nominee. But, in the end, vote."

But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Democrats would fight to retain what power they still have in a Washington where the GOP controls the White House and both houses of Congress.

"Right now, the only check on President Bush is the Democrats' ability to voice their concern in the Senate," said Reid, D-Nev. "If Republicans roll back our rights in this chamber, there will be no check on their power. The radical, right wing will be free to pursue any agenda they want."

Frist rebuffed last-minute offers from Reid to skip over Owen's nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and instead confirm consensus nominees to two other courts.

"I'm trying to move to a qualified nominee, Priscilla Owen and we hear these attempts to delay even right now, to sidetrack, to even consider somebody else and that's the challenge," Frist said. "That's why we're on the floor of the United States Senate, with the light of day, with the American people watching."

Reid also suggested that Frist call a senator-only meeting in the Capitol's Old Senate chamber -- no aides, no press, just all 100 senators -- where they could hash out the controversy on their own, just as they did to work out how senators would handle President Clinton's impeachment.

"Have all of us retire to the chamber, sit down and talk though this issue to see if there's a way we can resolve this short of this nuclear option," Reid said.

But Frist said he was ready to move forward. Reid then told Frist that Democrats would block all committee hearings from going on while the Senate debated Owen. Committees may meet while the Senate is in session only with the unanimous consent of all of the 100 senators, so a single senator can block committee meetings that last longer than two hours after the Senate begins.

With the Owen nomination now pending, time is running out on senators who want to find a compromise and avoid a vote in the Senate to block Democrats from filibustering the White House's judicial nominees. If majority Republicans opt to change the rules to disallow filibusters of judicial nominees -- a move labeled the "nuclear option" -- parliamentary warfare between Democrats and Republicans could escalate and stall Bush's legislative agenda.

Senators expect to debate Owen's nomination all this week and take a test vote early next week. If that vote is not successful, then Frist plans to call a vote on banning judicial filibusters, aides said.

WashPost full story-continued.

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