Republican officials privately say they hope Democrats pursue their planned strategy of shutting down the Senate over judicial filibusters, comparing it to the politically disastrous government shutdown by House Republicans almost 10 years ago.
Republicans have muted their official responses to this week’s threat by Minority Leader Harry Reid to halt almost all Senate business if Republicans force their way around the filibusters against President Bush’s judicial nominees.
But behind the scenes, party officials were giddy.
“The fact that they refuse to acknowledge the results of the last election and block President Bush’s agenda shows absolute desperation on their part,” said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). “Liberal special-interest groups spent millions to defeat President Bush, and they lost. Now they’re only left with these silly tactics.”
Republicans also eagerly were waving around a new poll released yesterday showing that 81 percent of registered voters think “well-qualified judicial nominees” deserve an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate.
“Judicial nomination battles are winning issues for Republicans,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayers, who conducted the poll of 800 voters for the Judicial Confirmation Network.
Republicans credit charges of “obstruction” for the defeat of several Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. And they wasted no time this week attacking Democrats who are up for re-election next year.
The NRSC sent out a three-page press release yesterday accusing Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat facing re-election next year in the conservative state of Nebraska, of supporting the Reid plan even though Mr. Nelson avoided the press conference at which the strategy was announced.
One Senate Republican aide said: “Democrats are all exit and no strategy.”
Reid spokesman Jim Manley dismissed any political posturing.
“If Republicans think that the American people are going to support their efforts to flatten individual liberty and silence the voices of millions of voters, then they have another think coming,” he said. “This is about the fight for all Americans to be heard.”
Meanwhile, Democrats also saw some political advantage to their hard-line stance. The liberal group Moveon.org sponsored an all-day rally yesterday to support Democrats. The list of speakers included several top Democrats such as Mr. Reid, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist aide Manuel Miranda, who was an early advocate of breaking the Democratic filibusters, said Democrats “can ignore a survey or a poll, but how can they ignore the polling of at least two elections when they keep losing seats?”
“This whole notion of shutting down the government will go by the wayside the moment they have to protect the spotted owl or some other pet legislation,” he said. “At the end of the day, they will either back down or lose.”