Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Democratic leaders claimed victory yesterday over the deal senators cut regarding filibusters of judicial nominees, while most Republicans said it violated their principles and conservative activists vowed retribution.

“Our republic stands strong. Our Constitution is solid. Our flag flies over a nation that has reaffirmed its faith in freedom,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, while Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised the deal for averting a crisis.

But while most Democrats crowed, the Congressional Black Caucus sounded a discordant note.

“This deal is more of a capitulation than a compromise,” said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and caucus chairman.

He objected that the deal specifically guaranteed two nominees — Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor — would not be filibustered, despite what Mr. Watt said were “documented histories of opposing the rights of African-Americans and of hostility to the broad mainstream of law and rights enacted by the Congress over the past 75 years.”

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, said the issue was what Democrats gave up.

“Preserving the filibuster was valuable because of the Supreme Court nominees coming down the road, but the price was too high with these appeals court judges now sneaking in,” he said.

Most Republicans were just as despondent about the outcome, though they saw a capitulation on the part of the seven Republicans who joined with seven Democrats to strike a deal. Under the terms, the seven Democrats pledged to grant up-or-down votes on three nominees and to use restraint with filibusters in the future in exchange for seven Republicans’ pledge to vote against declaring the filibuster of judicial nominees unconstitutional.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, called it a “Band-Aid” that simply puts off a showdown, while Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, called it “a major disappointment on principle.”

“Ultimately, nothing has been settled when a vacancy arises on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Mr. Allen said.

Some of the seven Republicans were hearing from their constituents — particularly Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia.

“Look who’s happy today — seven Republicans and all the Democrats,” said Kenneth Cuccinelli, a Republican state senator in Virginia who called the deal “a total cave-in” and blamed Mr. Warner in particular.

“He cannot get through another election without a significant Republican challenger,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

Others were just upset they might not get a chance to see that.

“Sen. John Warner is getting old and probably will not run for the Senate again. Too bad, because it denies me my chance to vote against him,” wrote Lyn Nofziger, a former Reagan administration official, on his Web site.

John Ullyot, Mr. Warner’s spokesman, said the office was getting “a large volume of calls on both sides of the issue,” but didn’t disclose the breakdown.

“He appreciates hearing from his constituents and from others who have strong feelings on issues before the Senate,” Mr. Ullyot said.

Mr. Allen’s office, meanwhile, received 500 calls as of yesterday afternoon, with the majority of the callers opposed to the deal.

Still, like most of his colleagues, Mr. Allen would not criticize Mr. Warner or the other deal makers.

“It’s their point of view,” he said. “It doesn’t change my view that senators ought to get off their cushy seats and vote yes or no on judges.”

In addition to Mr. Warner, the six other Republicans were Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, John McCain of Arizona and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Mr. Warner wasn’t the only Republican taking heat.

Admitting that conservatives “must hate my guts right now,” Mr. Graham said he’s convinced he did the right thing and voters will understand.

“If you thought we were winning this debate, you weren’t reading the polls right,” Mr. Graham said. “If you thought the Democrats were winning the debate, you’re on the wrong planet.”

The seven Democrats who struck the deal were Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Ken Salazar of Colorado and Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii.

While Republicans were being hammered, the Democrats faced no such backlash at home.

Joelle Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Democratic Party, said they were fielding lots of calls praising Mr. Salazar.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a Democratic senator here from Colorado, they’re happy about the national spotlight and being represented on this issue,” Ms. Martinez said.

• Christina Bellantoni, Brian DeBose and James G. Lakely contributed to this report.

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