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GOP has votes for ‘nuclear option,’ McConnell says

- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2005

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell said yesterday that Republicans have enough votes to invoke the "nuclear option" to limit Democrats' ability to stall by filibuster consideration of President Bush's nominees for federal appeals courts.

"I never announce my whip count. But I'm telling you, there's no doubt in my mind -- and I'm a pretty good counter of votes -- that we have the votes we need," the Kentucky Republican said. "And that step will be taken sometime in the near future at the determination of the majority leader."

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said it is a "huge mistake" to change the filibuster rule.

"This rule is important as well because it forces Democrats and Republicans to work together, to come to consensus. If you abandon this rule, then you'll find even more partisanship, in my view, in the United States Senate," he told interviewers on CBS' "Face The Nation."

Mr. Dodd "warned" Republicans that changing the rule could allow Democrats to stack the federal judiciary in the future.

"I wonder if people in some of the states in the South, for instance, are going to be terribly happy when a Democrat president, a Democratic president sitting there, virtually deciding for him- or herself who the federal judges will be out of that state, because you'll no longer have to consult with the senators from those states, as you do today."

Filibusters -- debate that can be shut off only by 60 or more votes -- have been used by Democrats to block 10 of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, questioned whether Mr. McConnell has enough Republican votes to limit debate and force an up-or-down vote.

"No one knows for sure what the vote will be, other than that it will be very, very close," Mr. Manley said.

If the filibuster is prevented, Mr. Reid has threatened to retaliate by slowing down and blocking legislative efforts in the Senate.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that Republicans and Democrats still can find a compromise. Mr. Specter urged his colleagues to find a compromise.

"I think, if we voted our consciences, we wouldn't have filibusters and we wouldn't have a nuclear option," Mr. Specter said.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told "Fox News Sunday" that Democrats have instituted a religious test for judicial nominees and are blocking those who might oppose abortion.

"We did not interject religion into this process. The Democratic senators did. What this boils down to is that the philosophy of that minority of liberal senators in the United States Senate has been repudiated in almost election after election, almost every recent election," Mr. Perkins said.

"And so, in order to shape the culture and drive public policy, they're holding on to the courts, and they're using the filibuster as if it's a junkyard dog to keep people from invading their territory. And that's wrong. These candidates deserve an up-or-down vote."

His organization sponsored a telecast last night featuring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, arguing in favor of ending the Democratic filibusters.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, called Mr. Perkins' claims "political" and said the Constitution does not allow a religious test.

"But many people have positions they've taken on political issues based on faith. Now, where do you draw that line?" he asked. "We need to ask about those issues because they're going to confront every judicial nominee, and there may be disagreement about their positions. But if their defense is always, 'You can't ask me, you can't object to me if my particular political position is based on faith,' then it's the end of the debate."