WASHINGTON – A Senate Republican leader’s threat to outlaw filibusters of judicial nominees is running into resistance from his party’s moderates, who may be poised to quash the GOP’s most potent option for dealing with Democratic opposition to conservative judges.
A handful of party centrists have expressed varying degrees of opposition to the idea of changing Senate rules to bar filibusters of judicial nominees, including those to the Supreme Court. With Republicans holding a 55 to 45 majority, they can lose no more than five colleagues on the issue, assuming that the Democrats and independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont stay united, as many expect.
Recently, four Republican senators have expressed deep reservations about the “nuclear option.” At least two others appear to be leaning against it, although less definitively, and several have refused to state a position publicly.
The question appears headed for a showdown in the Senate, where Democrats infuriated Republicans last year by using the filibuster – a time-honored delaying tactic – to prevent votes on 10 of President Bush’s appellate court nominees. Democrats said the conservative appointees were outside the political mainstream; Republicans said Democrats were abusing parliamentary rules to deny the nominees a yes-or-no confirmation vote.
Both parties call the proposed option “nuclear” because it would inevitably prove explosive.
If Republicans carry out their threat, Democrats vow to use parliamentary tactics to grind the Senate to a standstill. Republicans who oppose the plan say long-standing rules that protect the minority party and encourage bipartisan compromises should be preserved, no matter who holds the majority.
It takes 60 votes to halt a filibuster. Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee has called the filibusters of judicial nominees intolerable and repeatedly threatened to act to exempt judicial nominations from being filibustered if Democrats do not stop the practice.
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