Senate Compromise Ends Filibuster Showdown
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KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate stood at the brink of legislative nuclear war last night. Republican Leader Bill Frist was prepared to outlaw the democrats’ practice of filibustering judicial nominations within hours. Democratic Leader Harry Reid vowed to respond by slowing almost all Senate business to a crawl. The result, many political observers predicted, would be the congressional equivalent of mutually assured destruction.
Suddenly a bipartisan group of senators emerged from a closed-door meeting with a signed memorandum of understanding that forced both leaders to step back from the abyss. Seven Republicans and seven Democrats agreed to support, as a group, up-or-down votes on three of the president’s controversial judicial choices: Priscilla Owen, nominated to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals; Janice Rogers Brown, nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and William Pryor, nominated to the Eleventh Circuit Court.
However, the group agreed not to commit its support for votes on two other nominees: William Myers, nominated to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; and Henry Saad, nominated to the Sixth Circuit. The senators agreed the right to filibuster judicial nominations would be retained, but used only under “extraordinary circumstances.” And finally, the group agreed to oppose any rules changes affecting judicial nominations during the 109th Congress, through 2006.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: And I believe that this compromise reflects the better traditions of the Senate, and that is comity, cooperation, and collaboration. And I do believe as well that this is the essence of what our founding fathers designed the United States Senate to be. And that is an institution that achieves results through accommodation and collaboration.
KWAME HOLMAN: By their action, the seven democrats in the group left Sen. Reid short of the 41 votes needed to continue filibustering judges. And the seven Republicans left Sen. Frist short of the 50 he needed to outlaw the filibuster. Reacting to the deal this morning, Sen. Frist continued to maintain all nominees deserve an up-or-down vote.
SEN. BILL FRIST: Why just those three? Why exclude two others? Why be silent on others? That’s why the agreement stops far short of the principle that I have again and again brought through to this floor, the principle based on fairness. Second, the agreement, if followed in good faith, I believe will make filibusters in the future, including Supreme Court nominees, almost impossible, almost impossible.
I will say that if the other side of the aisle asks in bad faith and if they resume that campaign of routine obstruction where one out of every four or one out of every three of every nominees coming from the president who make it through committee who make it to the executive calendar are filibustered, the constitutional option is going to come out again.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sen. Reid responded.
SEN. HARRY REID: Madame President, I support the memorandum of understanding. It took the nuclear option off the table. The nuclear option is gone for our lifetime. We don’t have to talk about it anymore. I’m disappointed there are still these threats of the nuclear option. It’s gone. Let’s move on and do the Senate’s business.
So Madame President, I feel today as I indicated last night, last night was a good day for the Senate. Today is a good day for the Senate. Let’s move forward and work as a Senate feels it should work. There have been no rule changes. We’re here to do the will of the people of this country. That’s why we’re all elected.
SPOKESPERSON: The clerk will report the motion to invoke cloture.
KWAME HOLMAN: At noon today, the first element of the new bipartisan agreement on judges was implemented successfully as a majority of Democrats dropped efforts to filibuster the nomination of Priscilla Owen.
SPOKESPERSON: Three fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn, having voted in the affirmative the motion is agreed.
KWAME HOLMAN: That cleared the way for the final up or down vote on the Owen nomination possibly as soon as tomorrow.