Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) are racing to round up support for an emerging bipartisan compromise that could avoid a meltdown over judicial filibusters.
The plan would pave the way for votes on four nominees in exchange for Republicans’ withdrawing their threat to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominations, sources said. Republicans would also agree not to pursue votes on the three remaining nominees being filibustered by Democrats — though it is unclear which nominees would be affected.
“The proposal will force a gut check on both sides,” said a source with knowledge of the proposal, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Democrats will have to decide whether they want to keep up the fight, and Republicans will have to decide if they can take ‘yes’ for an answer.”
The deal is a short-time fix that would cover only the seven most controversial appellate court nominees. It makes no mention of an expected Supreme Court battle later in the year, sources said.
Susan Irby, Lott’s spokeswoman, said she was unable to speak to the state of any negotiations. David DiMartino, Nelson’s spokesman, said he, too, could not talk about the negotiations.
“It is no secret that Sen. Nelson has been working to find a compromise on the nominations issue, but we are not at liberty to discuss any proposal or private conversations at this time,” DiMartino said.
The proposed compromise comes as Democrats and Republicans are each marshaling their resources to prepare for the high-profile fight, which would affect not only Bush’s nominees, but also the way the Senate conducts business. Republicans claim Democrats are leaving them no choice but to consider changing a longstanding Senate rule.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged Monday that some talks have been under way, revolving around a fixed number of the controversial appellate court nominees being cleared for confirmation while a few others are held back by Republicans and the White House. “That has been part of the conversation,” Durbin said.
Durbin said his party would not accept a deal that limited its ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees. “There’s been no suggestion we would accept a partial — a mini-nuclear option,” he said.
Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Bill Frist, said the Tennessee Republican was also aware of the ongoing negotiations, but she added, “We are not going to comment on any details.”
The rule modification — known commonly as the “nuclear” or “constitutional” option — would allow judicial nominees to pass with only 51 votes, instead of the current 60 to end debate on a filibuster. Democrats successfully filibustered 10 of Bush’s nominees in the 108th Congress. Of those 10, seven have been re-nominated for positions on the federal bench.
If Republicans follow through on their threat to change the rule, Democrats have vowed to slow legislative business in the chamber to a snail’s pace.
In anticipation of the battle, Democrats deployed four of their Senate leaders Monday to decry the proposed rules change.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared that his party was prepared to engage Republicans should the GOP successfully change the rule.
“If Republicans go ahead and break the rules, Democrats are going to use the rules to fight for relief at the gas pump, stronger schools, lower health care costs and a range of other issues important to the American people,” said Reid, according to a prepared statement released by his office following the breakfast.
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