U.S. senators reach compromise on use of filibuster

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Monday, May 23, 2005

File:McCain-Bush-050321.jpg
President Bush talking with Senator John McCain in Arizona on March 21, 2005 (does not depict events of article)

A compromise was reached late Monday in the United States Senate about the use of filibusters against several judicial nominees of President George W. Bush. Seven Republicans joined with seven Democrats to make the deal.

The compromise was announced by Senator John McCain (Rep., Ariz.). McCain said, "We have reached an agreement to try to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice that would have had, in the view of all 14 of us, lasting impact, damaging impact on the institution." Future nominees will continue to be filibustered under the terms of this deal but only "under extraordinary circumstances", according to McCain.

Bush made 218 nominations in his first term of office, of which 10 were prevented from receiving an up-or-down vote by the Democrats' use of the filibuster. The filibuster is a form of extended debate in which senators hold the floor by speaking continuously, often on unrelated topics, with the purpose of delaying a decision. Senate procedures require 60 votes for "cloture", a term for ending the debate and forcing a vote. Since Republicans hold just 55 of the 100 seats in the Senate, they lack the power to force a vote without cooperation from Senate Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was not a party to the deal. Frist, along with other Senate Republicans, had been planning to push for a vote to abolish the use of the filibuster on judicial nominees entirely. This widely debated tactic, called either the "nuclear option" or the "constitutional option", may have been part of the impetus behind the current deal. If the "nuclear option" succeeded, some Senate Democrats had threatened to bring non-vital business of the Senate to a halt in protest.

Under the current deal, the 14 Senators agree to vote for cloture and allow three judicial nominees to come to a vote: Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor, and Priscilla Owen. Two other nominees were not part of the deal and may still be filibustered: William Myers and Henry Saad.

Some of Bush's nominees have been waiting for confirmation for four years. Bush continues to express support for all of his nominees and to request that each one get a vote. On Monday, Bush said, "I have made my position very clear, and that is my job is to pick people who will interpret the Constitution, not use the bench from which to write law. That's what I campaigned on. I said, if I'm the President, I will pick people who... bring great credit to the bench. And that's exactly what I've done, consistent with judicial philosophy in my picks, as well as the character of the people I pick. And I expect them to get an up or down vote... And I think the American people expect that, as well. People ought to have a fair hearing and they ought to get an up or down vote on the floor."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Dem., Nevada) opposed Bush's view in a statement Monday. "[T]he filibuster is one of the Senate's most important tools that guarantees minorities a voice in their government," said Reid.

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