- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Democrats yesterday said they will halt all Senate business except essential operations and national defense if Republicans use the “nuclear option” to unclog President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the threat in a letter yesterday to Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has said he has the 51 votes needed for a parliamentary procedure that would force the nominees through the Senate on a simple majority vote.

“Of course, Democrats would never block legislation vital to our troops or other national security interests, and we will help ensure that critical government services continue to function for the American people,” Mr. Reid wrote.

“Beyond that very limited scope, however, we will be reluctant to enter into any consent agreement that facilitates Senate activities, even on routine matters,” he said.

“Just this year, we passed the class action and bankruptcy bills under procedures negotiated in good faith between the majority and the minority,” wrote Mr. Reid, who announced his letter on the marble steps of the Capitol with 35 colleagues behind him. “We would decline to provide such cooperation in the future if you implement the nuclear option.”

Absent from Mr. Reid’s side yesterday were nine Democrats, several of whom have expressed reservations about Democratic strategies on judicial nominees. One missing Democrat was Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who has never supported a filibuster and faces re-election next year in a very conservative state.

“Senator Nelson does not support the use of filibusters to block judicial nominees, but he also doesn’t support the use of the nuclear option as a solution,” said Nelson spokesman David DiMartino. “He’d prefer some compromise.”

Also missing from yesterday’s press conference was Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat. Her office said she opposes the nuclear option, but also wasn’t eager to endorse Mr. Reid’s proposal.

“In terms of what her response is, I don’t think she’s commented on it yet,” said spokesman Adam Sharp, adding that his boss wants options other than “nuclear and shutdown.”

But even standing with Mr. Reid yesterday didn’t necessarily mean endorsing his strategy. Sen. Ken Salazar, the Colorado Democrat who supported previous Bush nominees, stood on the Senate steps but later refused to say whether he would help grind the Senate to a halt.

“I hope we don’t have to get there,” Mr. Salazar said as he walked into the Senate chamber after the press conference. “I don’t think it’s healthy for the Senate or for the country.”

Pressed about whether he will support a shutdown, Mr. Salazar said: “I will oppose the power of arrogance. But that doesn’t mean I won’t vote for individual nominees.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, slammed Democrats for blocking the ten nominees to the federal bench even though all appear likely to be confirmed if given a final vote, but do not have the backing of the 60 senators needed to break a filibuster.

“Senator Reid is not only fighting against the Constitution, but basic fairness and common sense,” he said. “I don’t know many people in Oklahoma, or any part of the country, who believe a majority of 100 equals 60 instead of 51.”

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and recent National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said Democrats “ought to learn a lesson” from last year’s election defeat of Minority Leader Tom Daschle, in part because Republicans tarred him as an “obstructionist.”

Sean Rushton, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice, called the Reid press conference an elaborate ritual — “kabuki theater for wealthy, liberal, Democratic financial supporters” who want to see Democrats stand up to Republicans. He said making good on their threat would be “political suicide.”

“Smart Democrats want the Republicans to take the filibuster away from them,” Mr. Rushton said. “They know judicial filibusters are hurting them politically.”

Mr. Coburn added, “Senator Reid’s threat may inspire the Michael Moore wing of his party, but it will anger and confuse mainstream Americans.”

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