- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

Democrats took control of the Senate yesterday with new Majority Leader Tom Daschle pledging to be "constructive" and wary Republicans still seeking assurances that Democrats will stop toying with President Bushs judicial nominees.
"We have just witnessed something that has never happened before in all of Senate history — the change of power during a session of Congress," Mr. Daschle said on the Senate floor. "We are required to find common ground and meaningful bipartisanship."
The chamber filled with applause as Mr. Daschle finished his speech. In his first act as majority leader, he introduced a resolution installing 83-year-old Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, as president pro tempore of the Senate.
As a result of Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords switch from the Republican Party to become an independent in the previously 50-50 Senate, Democrats also took control of chairmanships of Senate committees yesterday. The Senate even resumed work on Mr. Bushs education plan in a show of orderly transition.
But Republicans and Democrats made little progress yesterday on a resolution that would formally reorganize the Senate with Democratic majorities on the committees. And Republican sources said yesterday that the possible indictment of Democratic Sen. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey is complicating the negotiations.
In addition to seeking protection for Mr. Bushs judicial nominees, some Republicans are holding out for a so-called "snap-back provision" that would return the Senate to Republican control under more favorable rules if Mr. Torricelli is indicted in an ongoing federal campaign finance investigation and is forced to leave office.
Mr. Torricelli yesterday asked for a special prosecutor to handle his case. New Jerseys governor is a Republican, and would likely appoint a Republican to replace Mr. Torricelli.
But Senate Republicans spent most of a closed-door meeting yesterday trying to agree on how to protect Mr. Bushs nominees from partisan delay.
"Republicans are legitimately concerned about nominations because of the behavior and statements of the Democrats this year," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee. "All I want is a good-faith understanding that this administration will get the kind of respect prior administrations have historically been given for their nominees."
The Republicans negotiating team of five senators met with Mr. Daschle late yesterday for about an hour but did not reach an agreement.
"I believe were making progress," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican.
Democrats, who bitterly condemned John Ashcrofts nomination as attorney general and held up several other Justice nominees, so far have shown no willingness to give Republicans any guarantees. Asked for his view of Republican demands that Democrats be fair to Bush nominees, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said tersely: "Two words — Bill Lann Lee."
Mr. Lann Lee was President Clintons nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights and an advocate of affirmative action. Senate Republicans blocked his nomination, and Mr. Clinton eventually installed him in a recess appointment.
Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, sought to smooth over these partisan differences as he took over yesterday.
"Im honored to serve as majority leader, but I also recognize that the majority is slim," Mr. Daschle told his colleagues, only 37 of whom showed up in person to hear his remarks. "This is still one of the most closely divided Senates in all of history. Polarized positions are an indulgence … that the Senate cannot afford and our nation will not tolerate."
Even veteran Republican officials praised Mr. Daschles speech as "classy" and "gracious." But some conservatives said Mr. Daschle merely proved yesterday that he is a polished partisan operator.
"He has a lot of gifts in being able to say things in a conciliatory way and at the same time be less than totally reasonable in what hes holding out for, such as the liberal agenda," said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. "I think he said it in a way thats going to make liberals happy and most of the conservatives out watching him think hes pretty reasonable."
Asked if he accepts Mr. Daschles promise of bipartisanship, Mr. Inhofe replied, "Oh, no. I think he is making an effort to sound conciliatory. Some of what he said is not for our consumption as much as it is for the public consumption. My challenge to our leadership is to be just as tough in our minority position as Tom Daschle was to us."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, told Mr. Daschle on the floor that he set "a very positive tone" yesterday. And then he laid out some of the challenges facing Mr. Daschle.
"I hope we can find a way to show fiscal restraint," Mr. Lott said. "Will we be able to address energy needs in this country? Or will we be taking partisan positions and trying to assess blame?"
Mr. Lott, who served as majority leader for five years, listed the Republican Partys accomplishments, including tax relief, welfare reform and the end of federal deficits. There were so many, he said, that he stopped reading them aloud and asked that the list be included in the official record.
Republicans say another achievement while they were in control of the Senate was confirming 377 of Mr. Clintons judicial nominees and rejecting only one, Judge Ronnie White of Missouri. Mr. Sessions said only 41 judicial nominees were pending when Mr. Clinton left office, and only 7.5 percent of federal judgeships were vacant. Now, he said, about 11.5 percent of judgeships are unfilled.
"Some [Democrats] said they wouldnt vote for one if they were pro-life," Mr. Sessions said. "They have to be a moderate to be a definition of a good judge. If those are going to be the standards, then we are facing a historic change in confirmation."
He said he is not looking for an agreement in writing but wants Democrats to promise action on nominees in a reasonable time frame.
"I believe that was just some tough talk at the beginning of the year," Mr. Sessions said of the Democrats. "But thats why some of the leadership is concerned about having some sort of agreement, that were not going to be looking at a historic change in the deference given to a presidents nominations."
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont has promised hearings on judges "under regular order." But Mr. Biden said the request for a guarantee of swift action is "ludicrous."

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