- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

The Republican cloture motion on the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal bench appears destined to fail today, with Republicans having just 55 of the 60 votes needed to force a final vote.
Republicans called the stalemate over the 41-year-old Honduran-born lawyer President Bush's pick for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia an unprecedented attempt to defeat of a circuit court nominee by filibuster.
"It will raise a new standard, an inappropriate standard … that will be continued," said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Constitution subcommittee.
Senate Republican aides said yesterday Republicans do not expect today's cloture motion to pass, but rather to serve as a tool to pressure Democrats who may eventually break from their party and oppose a filibuster. Republicans plan to file future cloture motions if this one fails.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president thinks "the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is flexing its muscles to the discomfort of the few remaining moderates in the Democratic Party in the Senate."
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, agreed that a few liberal Democrats are "driving the train" while other Democrats are "uncomfortable" with the situation. He said many Democrats have been "silent" on the issue, including Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.
Mrs. Landrieu's office would not say how she will vote today, but noted that in the past she has said she supports continuing debate until Mr. Estrada is more forthcoming about his views.
Democrats, meanwhile, are confident they have the 41 votes to defeat the cloture motion.
"We have sufficient support to sustain a series of cloture votes," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said on Tuesday.
Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Bob Graham of Florida have been publicly undecided on the issue and Republicans are most hopeful that these two will break from their party in today's vote.
But Mr. Graham, who is recovering from surgery, is in Florida and will not vote today, spokesman Paul Anderson said yesterday. Mr. Anderson said his boss is still undecided both on cloture and actually confirming Mr. Estrada.
A Democratic aide has said they are not expecting Mrs. Lincoln to support the filibuster. The Arkansas senator has said she would like more information from Mr. Estrada, but is not saying publicly how she will vote today, her spokesman said yesterday.
Republicans are also hoping that Sen. Robert C. Byrd will oppose the filibuster if not today then sometime in the future. His office said yesterday nothing has changed since he told The Washington Times last week that he would vote against cloture. But the West Virginia Democrat also agreed to Mr. Estrada's request for a meeting tomorrow.
Several Democrats who had been on the Republicans' target list told The Times Tuesday they would vote against cloture today.
They 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.
All offices except that of Mr. Hollings, which did not return calls, said yesterday nothing had changed.
Mr. Santorum said while these Democrats may stand with Democratic leadership on the first cloture vote, some could change their minds by the second or third cloture vote.
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 sent a letter to all senators yesterday similar to one sent last week reiterating that anyone who wants more information on Mr. Estrada should meet him personally or submit questions to him or his former employers.
"If the asserted basis for the filibuster the need for more information is the actual motivation, senators who have engaged in the filibuster should avail themselves of these existing sources of information," White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales said in the letter.

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