- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

Key Republican senators yesterday signaled that the so-called “nuclear option” might not be needed after all to get an up-or-down vote on President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, says he hopes to have support from the 60 senators needed to call for a floor vote on two nominations this week, which would make changing the Senate rules unnecessary. But he added that the nuclear option, which requires only 51 votes, would be used if he could not get 60 votes.

Meanwhile yesterday, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said that “compromise is in the air.”

Mr. McConnell, whose whip post puts him in charge of knowing how senators will vote, said some Democrats have told him that they want to avoid a showdown that would the end the filibuster.

“I haven’t given up on the possibility that we might have 60 votes, including some Democrats who’ve been whispering in our ears that they believe that this ought to be defused, and that we ought to get back to the way we handled it under President Clinton,” Mr. McConnell told “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. McConnell was alluding to a 2000 showdown, defused by Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and then-Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. The then-Senate party leaders agreed that some of Mr. Clinton’s judicial picks could get a full floor vote, but encouraged members to vote on the merits of each nominee, Mr. McConnell said.

Under the “nuclear option,” Republicans would eliminate the procedural vote called cloture, which requires 60 votes to end debate and move to a vote on the merits of a nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, were to have continued compromise discussions last night.

The Senate this week will begin debate on the appointments of two federal appeals court judges whom Democrats blocked during the last Congress — Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown.

Mr. McCain, a critic of the nuclear option, told ABC’s “This Week” he thinks that an agreement will be reached without changing the filibuster rule.

“I believe that, as reasonable people — as we have in the past in the Senate — we should sit down together and work this out,” he said.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, told Fox that he also wants a compromise to avoid killing the filibuster rule, which he says protects minority rights in the Senate. Mr. Durbin also says he has enough votes for Democrats to prevail.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said he was not aware of any pending compromise.

“You’re not going to jump for a compromise when you’re talking about changing [more than 200] years of history,” Mr. Kennedy said of the filibuster rule on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “That basically would undermine some core commitments to the Constitution. I don’t think it’s a wise idea.”

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