A bipartisan group of Senators reached an eleventh hour deal Monday night averting a showdown on President Bush’s nominations for the federal bench and keeping intact the minority party’s ability to block controversial judicial nominees with a filibuster in “extraordinary circumstances.”
With seven Senators from each party on board, the deal allows for votes on three controversial nominees who had been previously filibustered and essentially casts aside two others. The deal short circuited what had been months of preparations for the invocation of the so-called “nuclear option,” which was set to be come to a head with a noon cloture vote today and a mid-afternoon vote on the parliamentary move to end filibusters on judges.
Now, that vote has been neutralized and the Senators have signed a document pledging to not support the rule change on filibusters as long as all signatories act in “good faith,” leaving Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) without enough votes to execute the measure.
“This agreement is entered into in the finest traditions of the Senate,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leader of the 14 Senators, declared at a 7:30 p.m. press conference.
Both Republicans and Democrats acknowledged that some portions of the “memorandum of understanding” signed by the Senators was vague, particularly about what will happen should any of the Democrats in the next 18 months support a filibuster of a Bush judicial nominee.
“This agreement is based on trust,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who along with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) led the Democratic side of the negotiations. “We do know that we trust each other.”
The deal came in a four-part, two-page memo that assured the confirmation of Texas Supreme Court Priscilla Owen, California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown and 11th U.S. Circuit Court Judge William Pryor. The two nominees who will not receive Democratic support — and therefore remain filibustered — are William Myers, who was nominated to the 9th Circuit, and Henry Saad, a 6th Circuit nominee. Several other 6th Circuit nominees who had been a point of contention will all be approved and were not even included in the deal.
A vote on Owen is expected around noon today.
“It fall short. It has some good news and it has some disappointing news,” Frist said in a floor speech after 8 p.m., distancing himself slightly from the deal.
“I look forward to swift action on the identified nominees,” he added later.
Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) embraced the deal as a rejection of Republican efforts at grabbing power.
“I say this is a victory for the American people,” Reid said in his floor speech.
The deal came after a 6 p.m. meeting was convened in McCain’s Russell Building office, the 10th and final gathering in less than a week of the negotiators. A stunning power grab by a group of moderates and centrists and sometime mavericks, it marks a major victory for a group of Senators who in the last decade have often found themselves squeezed out in the final hours of past major negotiations.
The Republicans who signed onto the deal are: McCain, Sens. John Warner (Va.), Mike DeWine (Ohio), Susan Collins (Maine), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).