Monday, March 21, 2005

As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to people all over America as I campaigned last year for our Senate candidates. No matter where I traveled across our great nation, whether it was South Dakota or Louisiana, South Carolina or Florida, again and again, I found myself talking to folks about the fair consideration of judicial nominees.

Whenever I spoke, my point was always this: Judges ought to apply the law, not invent it, and President Bush’s nominees should be accorded the fairness of an up or down vote in the Senate when favorably voted out of the Judiciary Committee. And an interesting thing happened each time I would say this to crowds across America: they cheered, loudly.

Sen. Harry Reid and his Democratic comrades brought the issue of judicial nominees to the forefront of our business in the Senate last week. The Democrats are now threatening to slow or even stop Senate business if Republicans go ahead with our plans to end the unprecedented obstruction of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees.

Mr. Reid and his leadership team would prefer that a supermajority of 60 Senators be required to approve the president’s nominees for the federal bench. But this flies in the face of over 200 years of Senate history. Never before have filibusters been used in this manner on judicial nominees. And, it’s about time we put an end to this irresponsible procedural tactic.

There’s a lot of talk in Washington about Republicans using the so-called nuclear option to move forward with the president’s nominees. This term really shows how out of touch politicians are in D.C. When you explain to normal people in the real world that these nominees have the support of a clear majority of senators — they don’t see a problem. In reality, moving forward with these nominees should be characterized as the “constitutional option.”

As senators, we have a constitutional responsibility to give our “advice and consent” regarding the president’s judicial nominations and that responsibility is being thwarted by a minority of Democrats who don’t agree with these nominees’ ideological positions. No senator has an obligation to vote in favor of a nominee, but every senator should have the backbone to get off their haunches and vote yes or vote no on these nominees and explain their vote to their constituents.

The Democrats seem to have not yet learned the lesson of their former leader, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the chief architect of this obstructionist approach. Mr. Daschle was the first Senate leader in 52 years to be defeated for re-election.

Now, Mr. Reid is threatening to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. The Democratic leader is threatening to hold up legislation and promises Democrats will be uncooperative if Republicans move forward with the president’s nominees, as directed by the Constitution. But one has to wonder if this is anything more than an empty threat.

How would an uncooperative Democratic leadership be any different than what we’ve seen over the last few years in the Senate? The Democrats have attempted to block us on almost every issue we’ve brought forth since they lost their majority in the Senate.

This year they’ve already thrown up blocks on the bankruptcy bill and class action reform and we fully expect a fight on upcoming legislation regarding Social Security reform, the budget, tax cuts, energy independence, medical liability reform, welfare reform and a whole host of other measures. You can bet they’ll continue with these tactics, regardless of whether or not we move forward with judges.

Further, Mr. Reid and the Democratic leadership are going to have a heck of a time pulling this caucus together on this issue. I don’t think reasonable Democrats are going to want to be a part of this attempt to shut down the Senate. I’d be surprised if moderates like Sens. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and those up for re-election in 2006 would actually go along with this failed play.

It looks to me like the Democrats are trying to play some poker. I think they’re bluffing and I think Republicans need to call them on it. We also need to remind the Democrats that governing our nation is not a game.

Now is the time for Republicans in the Senate to “go for it” without timidity; we must not cower or worry about the Democrats’ political reaction. The fact is, very soon we could see a vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States. It’s important that we put an end to these obstructionist tactics before we start piling up vacancies on the Supreme Court, as they are piling up in federal appellate courts around the country today.

We need to keep our promises to the American people. They expect us to act, not hide behind obscure parliamentary procedures and process. Americans voted back in November. Now they expect their senators to take a stand and vote, not to play petty, partisan process games.

It’s sad that instead of working with us to find common ground, Mr. Reid is leading the Senate Democrats into a box canyon. They’ve already dug themselves a six-foot political grave and they seem intent on continuing to dig.

Republicans in the meantime should move forward with positive, constructive solutions for America’s future. We ought to start by confirming Mr. Bush’s outstanding judicial nominees for our federal courts. They’ve waited long enough — and so have the American people.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, is also a former governor.

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