Sunday, October 26, 2003

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday declared the days of round-the-clock filibustering over and said that the historical maneuver would be useless in preventing President Bush’s judicial nominees from getting confirmed.

Democrats successfully have blocked at least two of Mr. Bush’s nominees using the modern filibuster, made nearly invisible by amended Senate rules. But forcing the debate and the tactics used by Democrats to block the nominees into the open through a filibuster won’t work, the Tennessee Republican told “Fox News Sunday.”

“If we stay in overnight or two nights or three nights, that doesn’t change a thing,” Mr. Frist said.

“Maybe it would help you educate the American people that it’s no longer the days of Jimmy Stewart,” said Mr. Frist, referring to the actor who portrayed the idealistic freshman Sen. Jefferson Smith in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

A filibuster, from the Dutch word “pirate,” is an attempt to block or delay full Senate action by debating it at length or by offering numerous procedural motions.

Continuous filibusters have offered classic moments, in addition to forcing public attention onto an issue. But the events weren’t popular with staffers who also had to work around the clock and slept in cots that lined Senate office building hallways.

Sen. Huey Long would recite Shakespeare, read the Constitution and share recipes for fried oysters and potlikkers. According to the Senate Historical Office, the Louisiana Democrat suggested to Vice President John Nance Garner presiding over one such deliberation that every senator should be forced to listen to him until excused.

Replied Mr. Garner, “That would be unusual cruelty under the Bill of Rights.”

The record for the longest filibuster is held by Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Armed with throat lozenges and malted milk tablets, Mr. Thurmond read the election statutes of every state, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and George Washington’s farewell address.

Senate rules today do not require a senator to actually hold control of the floor. A minority of 41 senators simply notifies the Senate leadership of its intent to filibuster. Other Senate business goes on, but a particular issue or a nomination cannot be brought to a vote, according to Ronald D. Rotunda, George Mason University law professor and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Mr. Frist conceded that an all-night filibuster would give a dramatic show of the obstruction that has frustrated his party. But said “at the end of that 24 hours, we still don’t get advice and consent. And that’s what the media and the American people need to understand,” Mr. Frist said.

Instead, Mr. Frist said he is pushing bipartisan legislation with Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, that would give every nominee an up or down vote within two weeks of their confirmation hearing.

“We’re going to break it, just watch, we’re going to break it, we’ve got a plan,” Mr. Frist said. “You come forward and say, ‘Stay in overnight,’ and the American people say, ‘Stay in overnight.’ That doesn’t change a thing.”

Mr. Miller wants to abolish the filibuster rule altogether, calling it a “waste of time and taxpayer money.”

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