- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

Sen. Ken Salazar has backed off the position he took during his campaign last year that Democrats should not filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Republicans had been counting on Mr. Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, as a key vote against the filibusters. His defection is a serious blow to the hopes of Senate Republicans who wanted more bipartisan weight behind their “nuclear option” to dislodge filibusters.

“Senator Salazar has made no decision on any judge,” spokesman Cody Wertz told The Washington Times when asked if Mr. Salazar still planned to vote against the filibusters.

However, during his campaign in centrist Colorado, Mr. Salazar said he favored an up-or-down vote in the full Senate for judicial nominees.

Mr. Salazar pledged during an interview with the Rocky Mountain News in Denver that he would not take part in the filibusters of judicial nominees.

“In a pre-election interview with the News editorial board, Sen.-elect Ken Salazar said he favored an up-or-down vote in the full Senate on judicial nominations,” the paper’s editorial board wrote Nov. 8. “We hope he sticks with that position even if his Democratic colleagues-to-be lean on him, as they are almost certain to do.”

And lean on him they have.

Mr. Salazar stunned Democrats earlier this year when he made the unusual and highly symbolic gesture of introducing Mr. Bush’s attorney general-designate, Alberto R. Gonzales, at his confirmation hearing. Democrats, who unanimously opposed Mr. Gonzales in committee and overwhelmingly opposed him on the floor, were livid about Mr. Salazar’s endorsement and made their unhappiness known, according to Democratic staffers.

Mr. Salazar was traveling in the Middle East and unavailable for comment, but Mr. Wertz dismissed any suggestion of a reversal.

He said Mr. Salazar has not taken a position on filibustering any of the nominees and said his boss made no such pledge during the interview with the Rocky Mountain News.

“I’m not sure how that question was phrased,” Mr. Wertz said.

Whatever Mr. Salazar’s position now or then, Republicans had the clear impression they could rely upon him to vote against the filibusters. When Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter publicly counted votes in support of stalled nominees, Mr. Salazar has always been among them.

In particular, Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, expected his support for former Interior Department lawyer William G. Myers III, nominated to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. As Colorado’s attorney general, Mr. Salazar had signed a letter of support for Mr. Myers based on his handling of Western issues such as grazing rights for ranchers.

During his campaign for the Senate, Mr. Salazar pointed to his letter of support for Mr. Myers as proof of his independence from Capitol Hill Democrats.

Mr. Salazar has since withdrawn that support and now says he hasn’t decided how he will vote.

Said one Republican aide: “The voters in Colorado sent to Washington someone who would support such a well-qualified nominee that understands Western values. The people of Colorado are watching him closely.”

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