Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Republicans accused Democrats yesterday of obstructing vital Senate business, such as creating a prescription-drug benefit plan, developing an energy bill and passing crucial spending bills in its final sprint toward the end of this session.

“We need to work efficiently, we need to work with a lot of focus, we need to stay on schedule,” Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said of the Senate’s packed schedule between now and Nov. 21, the targeted adjournment date. “We can’t have unnecessary delays if we are to complete the nation’s business.”

So Mr. Frist scheduled 30 hours of debate, beginning tonight and running all day tomorrow, on a batch of President Bush’s judicial nominations that has been filibustered, slow-walked or otherwise stalled in the Senate by a group of 45 unwavering Democrats.

“Tomorrow, we’re going to be starting what I call a reverse filibuster,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and conference chairman. “We are going to do everything we can to do what they’re doing.”

That includes hoping to catch Democrats asleep at their desks in the middle of the night to sneak a final vote on one of the nominees currently under filibuster.

“We’re going to the floor, we’re taking opportunities — any opportunity,” Mr. Santorum said. “They are forewarned: If the floor is not protected,” the nominees will be put up for a final vote.

Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and other leaders of the judicial nomination filibusters said the Republicans’ 30-hour debate — complete with cots rolled in and all-night snacks and coffee — wastes valuable time that should be spent on backed-up Senate business.

“Republicans are consumed by those four [judicial] jobs and ignore the three million jobs that we’ve lost over the course of the last three years under this administration’s economic policies,” Mr. Daschle said.

Those four filibustered nominees to whom Mr. Daschle referred include Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen and federal district Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi, both nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, nominated to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Daschle also referred to the filibuster against Washington lawyer Miguel A. Estrada, who was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit but withdrew his name earlier this year after two years of delay and eight months of filibuster.

In addition, there are several more nominees that Democrats are threatening to filibuster.

Mr. Daschle released yesterday a list of nominees from Democratic presidents that he said had been filibustered by Republicans. Five of the six listed ultimately were confirmed, prompting Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, to issue a statement wishing that Mr. Bush’s nominees were mistreated the same way.

Mr. Cornyn also dug up some quotes from 1999, when Mr. Daschle begged Republicans to give President Clinton’s nominees a final vote.

“I find it simply baffling that a senator would vote against even voting on a judicial nomination,” Mr. Daschle said when the tables were turned.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, has been a staunch defender of Mr. Bush’s nominees and a vocal opponent of the Democratic filibusters.

But in two of the cases from 2000 listed by Mr. Daschle, Mr. Craig voted against giving the nominees a final vote on the floor. In one of those cases, Mr. Frist joined Mr. Craig in the attempted filibuster.

Republicans said those cases are different because they never intended to succeed in filibustering the nominees — only make clear their deep disapproval.

“It was very different in the end,” Mr. Craig said. “It was never intended to be a filibuster. We simply wanted to force the issue.”

Democratic accusations that Republicans are wasting Senate time took a back seat earlier in the week when Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, filibustered for the entire day Monday while senators were scheduled to approve funding for the departments of Commerce, State and Justice.

After speaking about the spending bill for three hours, as required by Senate rules, Mr. Reid then turned his attention to “the color of all these ties or the color of her pretty shoes there,” he said, pointing to the attire of the floor staffers.

For nearly nine hours, Mr. Reid talked about anything that came to mind and read long passages from a book he wrote about the town of Searchlight, Nev.

Visiting schoolchildren seated in the balcony stared in a slack-jawed daze as he read chapter after chapter of his book.

“That was a pretty clear example of obstruction,” said Manuel Miranda, who is in charge of judicial nominations for Mr. Frist. “How can they possibly complain about the waste of time when they spent 10 hours holding up this important legislation?”

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