- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Senate Republican leaders said yesterday they will block action on the foreign aid bill and other legislation until Democrats agree to end their holdup of President Bush's long-stalled judicial nominations.
Their decision to "play hardball" came at yesterday's weekly policy luncheon meeting of Republican senators. Many of them attacked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy as a "vindictive" partisan who is trying to slow down or block Republican appointments to the bench.
A Senate Republican leadership official said the strategy had "the full backing" of the White House.
"They are concerned that the holdup of these nominees threatens the war on terrorism because these judicial vacancies need to be filled as soon as possible to act on law enforcement requests," the official said.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the committee's ranking Republican, led the attack on Mr. Leahy, telling his colleagues that the Vermont Democrat is threatening to get even with Republican members if they follow through on their legislative blocking strategy.
"Last night he [Leahy] was pretty irritated and not in a mood to be helpful. If anything, he was threatening. I've heard payback talk," Mr. Hatch told reporters yesterday.
The backroom political struggle over judicial nominees has been simmering ever since the Democrats took control of the Senate in July. That was when Mr. Leahy took over the committee and confirmation hearings on Mr. Bush's nominees ground to a halt. The backup now totals 52 nominees, 46 of whom have had no hearings.
But the struggle broke into open warfare when Mr. Hatch told his colleagues at yesterday's meeting that Mr. Leahy had told him that any Republican who voted not to take up the foreign operations bill today "would not get the federal judges from their state confirmed."
Mr. Leahy denied the charge.
"The senator said we will continue to move on judicial nominees as we have been, even though many come from states of obstructionist Republicans," his spokesman said.
Calling Mr. Leahy's tactics "purely partisan," Mr. Hatch said, "They're blaming Republicans for holding up the Senate when it seems to me the Democrats have their foot on the brake."
Yet the Republicans' pressure tactics may be working. Mr. Leahy's spokesman announced that his committee would be "voting on many more nominees on Thursday and that afternoon there will be a hearing on four more nominees."
That may not be enough to mollify Republicans who emerged from their luncheon "united that they will vote against taking up the foreign operations bill until we get an agreement from the Democratic leadership," a Republican official said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, insisted that "we're doing all that we can. As much as our Republican colleagues have complained, their tactic is counterproductive."
The federal judiciary system has at least 108 vacancies, including 39 posts that have been vacant so long that the courts have classified them as "judicial emergencies." The Senate has approved only eight judges this year.
Some Republicans suggested yesterday that the White House should get more actively involved in the fray to break the political logjam. "It would be helpful if the president spoke up, but he shouldn't have to," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, a member of the committee.

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