President Bush yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of his nomination of Justice Priscilla Owen and Judge Terry Boyle to federal appeals courts with vigorous criticism of "partisan" Democrats for continuing to filibuster them.
"A minority of senators is blocking the will of the Senate," Mr. Bush said. "Over the course of the past four years, the blocking of judicial nominees in the Senate has escalated to an unprecedented level."
By issuing a statement on domestic politics during a trip to Europe, the president underscored tensions between Republicans and Democrats over the filibustering of his judicial nominees.
White House aides said Mr. Bush wants to end the practice before vacancies occur on the U.S. Supreme Court, possibly this summer.
Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, offered to allow confirmation of Thomas B. Griffith, who won Senate Judiciary Committee approval earlier this year for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, despite opposition from some panel Democrats.
"A number of Democrats will vote against confirmation on the floor for these reasons and other reasons," Mr. Reid said. "But we on this side know the difference between opposing nominees and blocking nominees. We will oppose bad nominees, but we will only block unacceptable nominees."
Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, welcomed the offer, but added that it was a "first step," called on Mr. Reid to lift the filibusters against all nominees and said such horse trading "confirms public cynicism about what goes on behind Washington's closed doors."
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman, went further.
"An offer to confirm ... is an explicit concession that each is qualified for the court and that they are being held hostage as pawns in a convoluted chess game," he said. "If the Democrats really believe each is unqualified, a deal for confirmation for any one of them is repugnant ... and violates senators' oaths on the constitutional confirmation process."
Other Democrats seized on the anniversary as a rallying cry against Republicans who are considering a change in Senate rules to block the filibustering of judges.
"Republicans want to blow up 200 years of Senate history and change the rules simply because they aren't getting their way on a handful of radical nominees," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.
But Mr. Bush was in no mood to change the subject, saying the Senate should "put aside the partisan practices of the past and work together to ensure that all nominees are treated fairly."
"Much more than enough time has passed for the Senate to consider these nominations," he said. "The Senate should give these extraordinarily qualified nominees the up-or-down votes they deserve without further delay."
The president pointed out that Justice Owen, who sits on the Texas Supreme Court, and Judge Boyle, a federal district judge, have received the highest ratings from the American Bar Association and were nominated to fill circuit court vacancies regarded as emergencies by the Judicial Conference of the United States.