The Senate opened a long-awaited debate on whether to ban filibusters of judicial nominees with vividly partisan attacks yesterday, as a small group of moderates worked behind the scenes for a compromise to avert the showdown.
Senators from both parties filled the chamber all day with impassioned speeches about their constitutional duty to give the president "advice and consent" on judicial nominees. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) set the tone with an opening speech that said Democrats want to "kill, to defeat, to assassinate these nominees." Democrats denounced his remarks.
Even more intense action took place in small groups and closed meetings, as half a dozen GOP centrists, and an equal number of Democrats, tried to close a deal that would defuse the controversy. Aides familiar with the negotiations said they focused on two issues: the fate of seven pending appellate court nominees who were blocked from an up-or-down vote in Bush's first term and the more difficult issue of agreeing on how Democrats would treat the right to filibuster judicial nominees in coming months, when a Supreme Court vacancy might occur.
The "six and six" proposal, as it is called, would obligate Democratic signatories to forswear backing a filibuster against future judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. In return, the six GOP signers would agree to vote against efforts to ban judicial filibusters, the aides said.
Such an arrangement would effectively end the crisis because Democrats would not have the votes they need to prevent votes on the nominees in question. At the same time, Frist would not have the 51 votes he needs to disallow filibusters of judicial nominations.
It was unclear how the proposed accord would handle the seven pending Bush nominees. Under one scenario, all would receive confirmation votes -- and presumably be seated on various appeals courts -- except Henry W. Saad of Michigan and William G. Myers III of Idaho. Sources said Saad had made too many Democratic enemies, in part by accidentally sending a senator an e-mail that criticized the lawmaker. Myers, aides said, is a lower priority to Republican conservatives determined to secure confirmations for Priscilla Richman Owen of Texas, Janice Rogers Brown of California and William H. Pryor Jr. of Alabama.
Senators participating in the negotiations included Democrats Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.). Republican negotiators included Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), John McCain (Ariz.), Mike DeWine (Ohio), John W. Warner (Va.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Warner hosted at least one meeting. "It's 200 years of tradition and precedent -- there are a lot of issues to consider," Snowe told reporters.
Full WashPost article.