- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

It's time Republicans learned to play hardball. Democrats don't really want to filibuster Miguel Estrada's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. They aren't anxious to stay up all night and give marathon speeches on the dangers Mr. Estrada purportedly poses to the Republic. Tom Daschle needs his beauty rest, after all.

But the Republicans haven't been willing to call the Democrats' bluff. Normally, a filibuster requires a senator to take the floor and keep it, an arcane privilege that prevents the Senate from voting on the issue at hand, unless 60 senators vote to cut off debate.

Former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond (then a Democrat) filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes straight in an attempt to kill the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Former Sen. William Proxmire, Wisconsin Democrat, talked for 16 hours and 12 minutes on a debt-ceiling bill in 1981, and then-Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, New York Republican, filibustered a tax bill for 15 hours and 14 minutes in 1992.

No one seems to have the stomach for a real filibuster today, Democrats or Republicans. Instead of holding the Democrats' feet to the fire to force them to keep talking, the GOP leadership allowed senators to go home for the Presidents' Day recess without voting on Mr. Estrada. Now, Republicans are letting the Democrats drag out the debate day after day, without forcing obstinate senators to stay on the floor round the clock and on weekends.

It's understandable that Democrats wouldn't want to talk about Miguel Estrada hour after hour. They have nothing to say. Mr. Estrada is obviously well-qualified for the position, having received the highest judicial recommendation from the American Bar Association.

His stellar qualifications have earned Mr. Estrada a lefthanded compliment from Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who said, "We don't know anything about Estrada, other than he's smart."

The Democrats' real complaint is that Mr. Estrada hasn't commented publicly on controversial issues such as abortion and affirmative action. But is it fair to oppose a nominee on those grounds alone?

Ironically, the Democrats and liberal interest groups launched a similar attack on a previous Republican judicial nominee, calling him a "stealth" candidate for his refusal to say how he might vote on abortion cases. When a Republican-controlled senate confirmed that nominee, National Abortion Rights Action League Executive Director Kate Michelman accused senators of "a dangerous leap of faith [which] placed in jeopardy American women's fundamental right to choose." The nominee Justice David Souter went on to become a stalwart pro-abortion vote on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Estrada isn't likely to become another David Souter. Conservatives certainly don't believe he will. But the point is, his failure to inform the Senate about his private views on abortion shouldn't be held against Mr. Estrada, even by the pro-abortion ideologues that constitute the Democrats' Senate ranks.

Nonetheless, by not exposing the Democrats for the obstructionists they are, Republicans have opened themselves up to the charge by Democrats that it is Republicans who are to blame for bringing Senate work to a standstill with the Estrada nomination. Worse, Republicans have confused the issue by insisting on talking during this phony Democrat filibuster in a misguided attempt to make sure the pro-Estrada side gets equal time in the debate. Anyone tuning in to the debate on C-SPAN wouldn't have any idea from watching this charade that the Democrats are the real holdup on Senate action.

I've seen it time and again in my 30 years in Washington. Republicans play by gentlemen's rules. Democrats play to win. Republican sportsmanlike conduct has cost them dearly over the years. Republican diffidence helped doom Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination, almost derailed Clarence Thomas' confirmation to the high court, and is likely to defeat Miguel Estrada's appellate court bid as well.

It is probably too late now to force the Democrats' hand. Republicans moreover may believe that if Democrats succeed in blocking Mr. Estrada's confirmation, Hispanic voters will punish Democrats at the polls. Don't bet on it. More likely, Hispanics will see that for all their good intentions, Republicans can't deliver when it counts.

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