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Senators push filibuster deal

Mon., May 23, 2005

WASHINGTON – Senators trying to broker a compromise on judicial filibusters said Sunday an agreement is possible before a critical vote this week set by majority Republicans to break the logjam on President Bush’s court nominees.

Two senators leading talks among the dozen or so lawmakers who could force a deal spoke of the chance of averting a showdown, with a meeting set for today. But Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said an agreement that would protect the rights of the minority party and prevent abuse of the filibuster is proving elusive.

“We’re having difficulty coming up with exact language that would portray that desire. It’s tough,” McCain told “Fox News Sunday.” Nelson, on CNN’s “Late Edition,” added: “It’s very hard to handicap it at this point in time. But we’ll certainly know tomorrow evening” after the meeting.

While wishing that group well, leaders from both parties predicted victory if senators end up voting on the change in procedures, which has come to be known as the “nuclear option.”

“The contempt for the rule of law and the law of rules will set a new precedent – an illegal precedent,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told new graduates of George Washington Law School, his alma mater.

“If a compromise cannot be reached, Democrats and responsible Republicans will cast a historic vote for the Constitution and against the nuclear option,” Reid said.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republicans’ vote-counter, said Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., will have enough votes to stop a filibuster of the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen.

“If Sen. Frist has to exercise (that) option, I believe we’ll have the votes,” McConnell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

In the shadow of the next Supreme Court vacancy and the 2008 presidential election, the debate over Bush’s judicial nominees has become a fight over the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows members to hold up legislative business with unlimited talk. Bitterness has festered for years over what both sides say is abuse by the other of that parliamentary tool.


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