WASHINGTON – In a piece of parliamentary choreography that moves the Senate closer to confrontation, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., offered Thursday to give Democrats 100 hours to debate judicial nominees on the condition that they then permit a vote on each nominee.
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., immediately rejected the offer, but said he was willing to continue discussions.
“I don’t really like the proposal given, but I’m not going to throw it away,” Reid said.
Frist long had pledged to make a compromise offer, widely viewed as a final gesture before Republicans proceed with what has become known as the “nuclear option” – changing Senate rules to prevent Democrats from filibustering judicial nominees.
“Senator Reid and I have been talking almost every day on this issue. And I’m hopeful he’ll accept my offer as a solution,” Frist said on the Senate floor. “It may not be a perfect proposal for either side, but it’s the right proposal for America.”
Reid said the proposal violated his bottom line, which is that the filibuster rules – a tactic used by a minority of senators to block a vote by refusing to end debate – must remain intact.
“Thanks for the offer, but I think it was a big, wet kiss to the far right,” Reid said.
With a Supreme Court vacancy possible this summer, Frist said he would not budge on his bottom line – that Democrats be unable to block votes on judicial nominees.
“Senators have a duty to vote up-or-down on judicial nominees. Confirm them or deny them – but give them all the courtesy of a vote,” Frist said.
The Senate will be in recess next week, during which time Republicans are expected to try to build public support for their position. Recent opinion polls have suggested that the public is wary of plans to alter the filibuster rules, but that Americans also believe nominees should be voted on.
Frist also pledged to change Senate Judiciary Committee rules that allow lawmakers to use Senate procedures to halt nominations. Democrats accused Republicans of using those rules to block more than 60 of President Clinton’s nominees, calling them a “silent filibuster.” As for the 100 hours of debate, Reid belittled the offer as a “slow fuse on the nuclear option.”
“No matter how you get there, it’s still the nuclear option,” he said.
Republicans argue that Democrats are unfairly blocking votes on controversial judges. Democrats argue that they have blocked 10 of 215 nominees they consider “extremists,” and that instead of withdrawing controversial judges, Bush has renominated them.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., denounced Frist’s offer as insincere, saying that if it were a serious compromise, conservative activists would be unhappy. He said Reid “took a hit” when he made his own compromise offer to Frist on Monday.
“What I think we haven’t seen yet is a willingness … to say no to some of the outlandish claims of their base,” Obama said.
One of the main conservative advocacy groups, the Family Research Council, praised Frist’s overture as “fair to both sides.”
“Sen. Reid’s actions today highlight how to the Democrats this issue is not about following the Constitution, restoring balance or preserving the rights of the minority party,” the group’s president, Tony Perkins, said in a statement posted on the council’s Web site.
“After losing both chambers of Congress and the White House, Senate Democrats see this as a political issue to fundraise and mobilize their base,” Perkins said.
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