- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

Senate Republicans yesterday filed a motion to end debate on one of President Bush’s filibustered judicial nominations, officially starting the 30-hour countdown that could end in what has come to be known as the “nuclear option.”

“Today, the Senate chamber has the feel of a Hollywood stage set,” remarked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. “The Senate clock centered above the vice president’s chair is in a countdown — second-by-second — to the appointed hour and minute when a nuclear explosion may render the Senate inoperative or at least do substantial damage to this institution.”

Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, has contributed to the high drama by refusing to state publicly whether he will vote with Republicans to ban filibusters on judicial nominees, dubbed the nuclear option.

After several hours of debate yesterday, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went to the Senate floor to schedule a final up-or-down vote for Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen. Mr. Bush nominated Justice Owen, who served with Mr. Cornyn on the Texas high court, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit more than four years ago.

Mr. Cornyn initially offered up to 15 hours of more debate on the Owen nomination yesterday, which Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada rejected. “Mr. President, I will refrain from making offers of unanimous consent for additional debate time,” Mr. Cornyn said when he was unable to get Mr. Reid’s consent for a final vote. “With that objection, on behalf of the majority leader, I send a cloture motion to the desk.”

That cloture vote — which requires 60 votes to pass and will force a close to further debate on the nomination — will take place Tuesday.

During floor debate yesterday, senators from both parties lamented the situation facing the Senate where 10 of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees to the U.S. Appeals Court have been denied final votes. By employing the “nuclear option” next week, Republicans will set a precedent that will prohibit filibusters of judicial nominees.

Both sides openly acknowledge that the current debate is less about the seven remaining blocked nominees and more about the one or more upcoming Supreme Court vacancies that are expected this summer. Some hold out hope that a compromise might be reached.

Among those still searching for that compromise are 11 Republicans who have said they are either opposed to the nuclear option, undecided or simply undeclared. Democrats need to strip only six Republican votes in order to block Republicans from banning filibusters on judicial nominations.

Republican activists warned that any compromise that doesn’t result in final votes on all nominees would be a serious loss for Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, are among those looking for a compromise and made a proposal that was offered as legislation in an earlier Congress by Mr. Specter.

Under the proposal, a bipartisan group in the Senate “would establish a pool of men and women to be considered for any vacancy on the Supreme Court,” according to a press release yesterday. “The committee would submit this group of names to the president. The president could select from that list, if he chooses, or pick someone completely different.”

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