Senate to play its own 'Survivor' with all-night talkathon

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

WASHINGTON -- It's a grudge that's been building for two years.

In a legislative version of "Survivor," Republicans and Democrats will square off today in an all-night Senate talkathon on who's to blame for some of President Bush's political nominees not making it to the federal appeals bench.

While both parties hope the debate will mobilize their political bases, the contestants already know the winner: the status quo.

For 30 straight hours -- from this evening through midnight Thursday -- senators will condemn each other and Bush for the impasse over four U.S. Appeals Court nominees: Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, Texas judge Priscilla Owen, Mississippi judge Charles Pickering and Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada.

Democrats have refused to allow confirmation votes, and Republicans have not been able to get the 60 votes to force them in a Senate split with 51 GOP senators, 48 Democrats and one independent. Frustrated at the delays, Estrada withdrew his nomination in September.

Republicans hope the all-night Senate session -- the first to go past 4 a.m. since 1992 -- will swing public favor and maybe some campaign cash their way during the winter break. Conservatives have complained the GOP hasn't done enough to highlight the Democrats' blockades.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., called the talkathon a "reverse filibuster."

"Filibusters are put forward by the minority to try and block action from occurring," he said. "We're trying to move to the floor to try to force action on judicial nominations. We're going to do everything we can to get a vote on judges, and they're going to do everything they can to block a vote on judges."

The Senate has confirmed 168 of Bush's judicial nominees, and Democrats have blocked four. Senators in both parties acknowledge their wrangling over judges the past two years hasn't caught the general public's attention the way a Supreme Court nomination fight would.

"All of this probably matters to 500 people: 100 senators, their staffers, and the 50 reporters who cover us, and no one else," joked Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., about the 30-hour debate.

But Democrats say they welcome the free 15 hours to criticize Bush and the GOP on the economy, problems in Iraq and Bush's choices for key judgeships.

"The Republicans are consumed by those four jobs and ignore the 3 million jobs that we've lost over the course of the last three years under this administration's economic policies," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who plans to take one of the late night shifts.

Republicans are joking about setting up cots in the Senate chamber for weary senators, but that likely will be unnecessary.

Instead of one senator trying to talk for the full 30 hours, the two sides will split the time and trade shifts so that there will be a senator from each party on the floor at all times.

For example, a Republican will talk from 3 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., while a Democrat watches. They'll switch roles for the next 30 minutes and then head home to bed, replaced by two others for the next shift lasting as little as one hour.

Because Senate rules require agreement from both sides to quickly confirm a nominee, the GOP can't force a confirmation vote as long as a Democrat is present on the floor to object. But if they fall asleep or stop paying attention, Santorum said the GOP will immediately confirm the nominees.

In turn, Daschle said if Republicans stop paying attention, they will immediately pass Democratic legislation like a bill to raise the minimum wage or one to create a tax credit to stimulate creation of manufacturing jobs.

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