Tuesday, February 15, 2005

President Bush officially resubmitted to the Senate yesterday 20 judicial nominees, including seven U.S. Circuit Court nominees whom Democrats filibustered in the last Congress.

“I’m pleased that the president has renominated these excellent women and men to serve on the federal bench,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

“I’m hopeful that Democrats will work with me to get up-or-down votes on each nominee,” he said.

Mr. Frist said he hoped to confirm the nominees, or at least give each a final vote on the Senate floor, through diplomacy. But he told The Washington Times for an article printed yesterday that he had the 51 votes needed to change Senate rules to ban filibusters against executive nominees — a threat that colored the Democrats’ reactions yesterday.

Diplomacy is not likely to work, said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who told reporters last month that if Mr. Bush renominates the same judges, the Democrats will block them again.

“To replay this narrow and completed debate demonstrates the Bush administration’s failure to craft a positive agenda for the American people,” Mr. Reid said yesterday after the renominations were announced.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, said, “The president looks like he is still more interested in picking fights than in picking judges.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Bush “has again chosen confrontation over cooperation and ideology over moderation.”

“The president’s words about wanting to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats are ringing a little hollow at this point,” he said. “Democratic senators cooperated in confirming 204 of President Bush’s judicial nominees in his first term, and we were able to reach the lowest judicial vacancy rates in 16 years.”

Democrats have filibustered 10 of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees. Three have withdrawn their names from consideration, and the remaining seven were resubmitted yesterday.

The seven are Priscilla Richman Owen for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; David W. McKeague, Henry W. Saad and Richard A. Griffin for the 6th Circuit; William Gerry Myers III for the 9th Circuit; William H. Pryor for the 11th Circuit; and Janice Rogers Brown for the D.C. Circuit.

Also resubmitted yesterday were five other Circuit Court nominees on whom the Senate Judiciary Committee did not vote or on whom the Senate took no floor action, but had not been filibustered. To break a filibuster requires a “cloture” vote to end debate, which requires 60 votes to pass.

Mr. Bush also resubmitted eight U.S. District Court nominees who were not confirmed during his first term.

Changing Senate rules has been termed the “nuclear option” by Democrats who are warning of a political meltdown in the Senate if such a move is taken.

“The nuclear option is aptly named because it will blow up the Senate,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “We don’t know if Senator Frist has 51 ‘yes’ votes, but it would be a tragedy for the Senate and for the country if he does. It would reverse almost 200 years of history and dramatically change what the Senate has always been.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said earlier that he too hoped to avoid the “nuclear option,” which Republicans have dubbed the “constitutional option.” He also declined to say whether he supported employing the rules change.

“I’m not going to jump off that bridge until I come to it, and I hope I don’t come to it,” Mr. Specter told The Washington Times earlier this month.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, said that for 200 years, judges have passed on a straight majority vote, by which all of the filibustered nominees would be confirmed.

“It would make no sense to require Republicans to be elected by a 60 percent vote, while only requiring 51 percent of Democrats,” he said. “The Senate should reject the double standard that Democrats have created for confirming President Bush’s nominees and restore our constitutional and traditional standards.”

In the last election, Republicans picked up four Senate seats, and one major campaign tactic was to charge the Democrats with obstructionism — blocking the judicial nominees and policy initiatives of Mr. Bush and the Republican majority.

Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who lost his seat, was the leading target of that tactic.

“The American people sent a strong message on November 2 against the obstructionist tactics that, unfortunately, we saw all too often in the past four years,” Mr. Cornyn said.

“I’m hopeful that the will of the American people has been made clear to the obstructionists and that these 20 nominees will receive swift up-or-down votes, as all judicial nominees deserve,” the Texan said.

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