Democrats made plain yesterday their intention to continue their filibusters against President Bush’s judicial nominations — all but assuring a dramatic parliamentary duel over long-standing Senate practice.
Their intentions became clear after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a new hearing yesterday morning for William G. Myers, whose nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filibustered last year.
Republicans picked Mr. Myers for the first hearing because they thought he was the most likely to garner the 60 votes needed to break through a Democratic filibuster.
“I think he’s worse off than he was before,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said within hours of Mr. Myers’ hearing. “I don’t think Myers’ vote is going to be any different.”
Mr. Reid also indicated that the filibusters will continue against all seven of Mr. Bush’s resubmitted nominees to the federal appeals bench.
“On the judges that have been brought forward previously, we’re going to treat them just the same as we have in the past,” he told reporters yesterday.
The Democratic promises all but guarantee that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, will have to make good on his promise to employ the so-called “nuclear option” to break the impasse.
That rarely used parliamentary procedure requires just 51 votes to break a filibuster and force a final vote on a judicial nomination. Democrats say using the “nuclear option” would end the Senate tradition of collegiality and paralyze the chamber with partisanship.
Republicans faced another rude awakening yesterday when Sen. Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat who has crossed party lines to support Mr. Bush’s nominees, sent a letter to the White House asking Mr. Bush to withdraw his filibustered nominees.
“I am concerned with your decision to re-nominate judicial nominees previously nominated and not confirmed by the Senate in the 108th Congress,” the freshman senator wrote to Mr. Bush.
“The decision reflects a sentiment contrary to the cooperative working relationship we need to develop to confront the many challenges we face. The decision to re-nominate these individuals will undoubtedly create the animosity and divisiveness between the President and the United States Senate as an institution that is not helpful to our Nation and will sidetrack our collective efforts to work on other crucial matters,” Mr. Salazar wrote.
Yesterday’s developments were a slap in the face of the new Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who has tried to defuse Democratic filibusters by continuing negotiations and implying that his own party shared the blame for the impasse.
Mr. Specter led with the nomination of Mr. Myers — former Department of Interior solicitor — based on the 58 votes that he told The Washington Times last month that he had counted in favor of the nomination.
With 58 votes in the bank, he said then, finding two more to invoke cloture — or move to a vote for final confirmation — would not be difficult. But the 58 included Mr. Salazar.
Although a spokesman said the Colorado Democrat has not decided how he will vote on the Myers nomination, his letter yesterday to the White House strongly suggests that he will oppose it.