WASHINGTON – The Bush administration raised the volume Monday on the contentious subject of judicial nominations, with President Bush and Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales forcefully urging Democrats to give nominees an up-or-down vote in the Senate.
Their comments came against the backdrop of accelerated scrambling by both political parties to shape the message and strategy for a possible constitutional showdown. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., vowed to eliminate Democrats’ use of the filibuster to block judicial nominations they deem unacceptable, and Democrats insisted that they have been “responsible and reasonable” in their role of advising and consenting on Bush’s nominees.
Some Democratic and Republican senators, fearful of the political fallout from such a confrontation, were attempting to craft a compromise that would provide a way out. But there was little indication they had made much progress or attracted the support necessary to avoid what Democrats have referred to as “the nuclear option.” That is the term Democrats have given to the possible end to the use of the filibuster, where 60 votes in the 100-member Senate are needed to cut off debate, and instead allowing up-or-down votes where only 51 votes would be needed to confirm a nomination.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, accused both parties of engaging in “mutual assured destruction” and playing an “aimless and endless game of political chicken.”
Meanwhile, Democrats spent hours on the Senate floor arguing that eviscerating the filibuster would be an unacceptable and unconstitutional power grab by the majority Republicans. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered to move directly to a vote on the nomination of Thomas Griffith to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite Democratic unhappiness over his failure to obtain a law license while he practiced law here and in Utah.
Democrats and Republicans have scheduled press conferences and campaign-style events for the remainder of the week to press their case.