- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Senate Republican leaders yesterday made the first move to cut off debate on federal appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada by filing for "cloture" to force a final vote on his nomination.
"We're just beginning the fight," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. "This is not going to go away not until we get an up-or-down vote."
Senators will vote tomorrow on the cloture motion, which will limit debate and force a vote on the nomination.
Republicans now have 55 of the needed 60 votes on cloture, including those of four Democrats, but have targeted a handful of other Democrats, hoping to get them to break ranks with their party and end the filibuster.
Republicans say it is time for the Democrats to go on record either for or against the 41-year-old Honduran-born lawyer, who was nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Democrats have been preventing a vote on the nomination as debate continued since Feb 5.
"We've had a debate now; now it's time to see who's going to vote where," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. "Then the American people are going to have to speak to those senators."
Democrats are confident they have the 41 votes needed to continue a filibuster by defeating this cloture motion, as well as any others Republicans may file later.
"We are more than ready to have one or more votes," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
If the cloture motion fails, Republicans plan to keep the Estrada nomination on the floor for as long as it takes to get a vote, setting it aside occasionally to go to other Senate business. They also plan additional cloture votes.
Mr. Frist said he will use "every tool that I possibly can" to get a final vote.
A Senate Republican leadership aide said Republicans are hopeful that Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia will join them in stopping a filibuster tomorrow.
Mr. Byrd has said he would vote with the Democrats against cloture on Mr. Estrada's nomination. But Republican aides say they are making progress with Mr. Byrd, who is set to meet the lawyer on Friday.
Mrs. Lincoln did not say yesterday how she would vote on cloture, repeating only that she would like more information from Mr. Estrada. But a Democratic aide has said his party is not counting on Mrs. Lincoln to support the filibuster.
Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, also is undecided both on a cloture vote and ultimate support for Mr. Estrada's nomination. His office said late yesterday that no decision had been made.
Several Democrats who have been on Republicans' target list said yesterday that they plan to support the filibuster. Those include Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana; Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico; Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel K. Akaka, both of Hawaii; Thomas R. Carper of Delaware; Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Mr. Hollings would not say whether he would vote for subsequent cloture votes to keep the filibuster going.
"Let's see what they do," he said, referring to Republicans.
Others such as Mr. Carper and Mr. Pryor said they would continue to vote against cloture.
The Democrats who have said they will vote with the 51 Republicans in favor of cloture are John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida and Zell Miller of Georgia.
The White House has repeatedly invited Democrats seeking 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.
As of yesterday, only Mr. Byrd had requested a meeting with Mr. Estrada and no senators had submitted more questions.
"The Senate Democrats have repeatedly said they need more information, yet they have repeatedly ignored or declined these offers," White House spokesman Ashley Snee said.
The Senate Republican leadership aide said that if Democrats continue to stick together to support the filibuster, they "will hear about Miguel Estrada for the next 18 months until November 2004."
Mr. Daschle said yesterday that the cloture vote tomorrow "doesn't change anything," because "the only thing that would change the circumstances we currently face is if Mr. Estrada becomes more cooperative."
Democratic leaders are demanding that the administration release memos Mr. Estrada wrote while working in the solicitor general's office a request the administration has denied, with the backing of every living solicitor-general of both parties.
But Mr. Hatch said the cloture vote will establish on record that for the first time there is a "true filibuster against a circuit court nominee" an accusation many Democrats have rejected.
Mr. Frist noted that Republicans have tried 17 times to get unanimous consent to have a vote, but Democrats have objected. He also noted that 72 newspaper editorials across the country support Mr. Estrada and/or oppose the Democratic filibuster, while just 10 support the filibuster.
The Senate is set to consider an arms control treaty with Russia today, setting aside the Estrada nomination temporarily.

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