- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

Senate Republicans have picked up four Democratic votes against a filibuster of federal appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada, and are targeting a handful of other Democrats they hope will break party ranks and join them.
The target list includes Sens. Bob Graham of Florida, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, said top Republican aides.
A senior Republican Senate aide and an administration official said Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina are being targeted as well. Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, one of the four Democrats opposing a filibuster, is taking the lead in lobbying Mrs. Landrieu, another Senate Republican leadership aide said.
The Senate has been considering Mr. Estrada's nomination to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since Feb. 5. However, Democrats say they will not allow an up-or-down vote until they get more information about the 41-year old Honduran-born attorney. They say Mr. Estrada has not answered their questions about his legal views and could be a conservative activist judge.
Republicans, however, say some Democrats may be uncomfortable with how the public could perceive the treatment of Mr. Estrada.
"I think a lot of them are trying to find an out," the Republican leadership aide said. "I think a lot of folks are getting antsy about what it's doing to their party."
Republicans have 55 of the 60 votes needed to head off a filibuster by invoking cloture a move that limits debate and forces a final vote. Apart from Mr. Breaux, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida and Zell Miller of Georgia are the other Democrats who have said they will vote with the 51 Republicans in favor of cloture.
Mr. Graham, Mrs. Lincoln and Mr. Bayh are considered possibilities to be the next Democrats to break ranks, said the Republican leadership aide. Mr. Graham and Mrs. Lincoln were publicly neutral as of late last week, though one Democratic aide said they aren't counting on Mrs. Lincoln to support a filibuster.
A spokesman for Mr. Bayh said late last week that his boss is not in danger of defecting to the pro-cloture group "because there is not enough information out yet about Estrada." A spokesman for Mr. Carper said the same.
Democratic leaders have demanded legal memos that Mr. Estrada wrote while working at the office of the U.S. solicitor general a request denied by the administration.
Senate Republicans also are holding out hope that they may be able to win the support of "institutional" Democrats seen as protective of Senate process. Those include Mr. Hollings, Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware.
Mr. Byrd vowed Wednesday to vote against cloture, "because if [Estrada] is not going to answer questions, he's not going to get my vote." Andy Davis, Mr. Hollings' spokesman, spoke cautiously late last week, saying "right now, [the senator] intends to vote against cloture."
Republicans are targeting some on the list, including Mr. Graham and Mr. Bingaman, because they are from states with large Hispanic populations.
The White House has repeatedly invited Democrats who want more information to meet with Mr. Estrada, and several have done so. The latest letter from the White House, sent Feb. 27, also encouraged them to submit written questions to Mr. Estrada and talk to his former employers.
Democratic leaders are confident they still have more than the 41 votes needed to keep debate going and to defeat cloture.
"It's not as though we're hanging on a thread on this," said Jay Carson, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. "We remain confident that we have strong numbers."
A Democratic aide said that even if both Mrs. Lincoln and Mr. Graham oppose a filibuster, Democrats still feel confident they have 43 votes two more than the 41 needed.
Ad campaigns by conservative groups have targeted key states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Florida, New Mexico and Indiana.
A David Winston poll of 1,000 registered voters Feb. 24-25 found that 42 percent of those surveyed said the filibuster of Mr. Estrada would make them less favorable to Democratic Senate candidates, while 32 percent said it would make them more favorable.
Stephen Dinan and Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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