- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Senate Republicans, hoping to protect President Bushs nominees from partisan foot-dragging, are headed for a showdown with Democrats, Senate sources said yesterday.
Democrats will take control of the Senate next week, because of the decision of Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont to quit the Republican Party and become an independent who votes with Democrats on organizational matters. His move means there will be 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent.
"With a 50-49-1 makeup of the Senate, it is a unique situation, and it is not the same as a 51-49 majority," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott. "Therefore a number of Republican senators feel a host of issues must be addressed before they would support an organizing resolution."
But a senior Democratic aide indicated yesterday that Senate Democrats are not likely to promise swift passage for Bush nominees after they take over June 5.
"Do [Republicans] point to any similar assurances they gave to the Clinton administration?" the aide asked. "I dont think so."
Democrats want at least a one-vote majority on committees, because they will have a majority in the Senate. Under the 50-50 Senate, committees were divided equally, and Republicans controlled the chairmanships because Vice President Richard B. Cheney could cast tie-breaking votes.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware announced yesterday he will become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday . Mr. Bidens decision ended speculation that he would choose the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, and sets up a battle with the administration over Mr. Bushs proposed national missile defense system.
"The decisions we will make on this one issue alone promises to be the most important national security debate and decision in our lifetime," Mr. Biden said at a news conference in New Castle, Del.
Aside from Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle becoming majority leader and ranking Democrats taking over committees, Republicans and Democrats have other organizational issues to resolve, such as committee ratios.
A senior Republican leadership aide said yesterday that the GOP wants a deal with Democrats on a "variety" of questions, such as staff budgets, the proposed one-vote majority for Democrats in committees and, perhaps most significant, a procedure for moving Bush nominees out of deadlocked committees.
As part of the power-sharing agreement negotiated by Mr. Lott and Mr. Daschle in January, the majority leader could bring nominees to a floor vote if a committees balloting on a candidate was tied. But with Democrats about to become the majority, there is little incentive for them to agree to such a deal again.
Republicans say they might filibuster the organizational agreement if they are not satisfied, meaning Democrats would need 60 votes to move forward with it.
"Weve seen how the Democrats voted in a bloc against [Solicitor General] Ted Olson," said a senior Republican staffer. "Republicans have their own powers, and one of those is the filibuster."
All nine Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted against Mr. Olson, resulting in a 9-9 tie on the panel. Republicans brought his nomination to the floor as one of their final acts in the majority last week, winning Mr. Olsons confirmation by a vote of 51-47.
Senate Republicans point out that they confirmed only four fewer judicial nominees during the Clinton administration than Democrats did during President Reagans eight years in office.
Mr. Daschle is in his home state of South Dakota this week, and his negotiations with a team of five Republicans wont begin until next week. Mr. Lott has appointed Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Phil Gramm of Texas, Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to negotiate with the Democratic leader.
Mr. Bidens decision to take over chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee means that Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, will run the Judiciary Committee. Mr. Leahy said in an interview in Vermont yesterday that he has told White House officials "they are going to have to look for mainstream judges… . Nobody wants to see the judiciary lurch to the far right or the far left."
Thomas Jipping, director of the Judicial Selection Monitoring Project of the Free Congress Foundation in Washington, said he expects Democrats to "quickly abandon their past demands for more confirmations, fewer vacancies and nonpartisan evaluations."
Mr. Biden also will become chairman of a new Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs, with jurisdiction over the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He said yesterday he wants to emphasize hiring more police officers and fully funding the Violence Against Women Act.
Several senators have been waiting for Mr. Bidens action, believing that his decision not to take over the higher-profile Judiciary Committee would be a signal that he does not intend to run for president in 2004. But Biden spokeswoman Margaret Aitken said yesterday that he has not ruled out another bid for the White House.
"Senator Biden clearly has not made up his mind yet," she said. "He did not base his decision on speculation about a future run."
Mr. Bush recently announced his intention to deploy a national missile defense system, although he has not indicated its scope or cost. Mr. Biden has been an outspoken critic of the cost of a national missile shield and of what he views as Republicans attempts to proceed unilaterally on arms-control issues.


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