Senate GOP - 30 hours straight just isn't enough

Friday, November 14, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Saying 30 straight hours isn't enough, Republicans vowed to keep the Senate open overnight again Thursday in an attempt to pry conservative jurists loose from Democratic filibusters. President Bush, lending his voice to the effort, accused Democrats of "shameful" inaction on his judicial nominees.

The Senate talkathon was supposed to end at midnight Thursday. But Republicans added nine more hours to take them through 9 a.m. today, when they scheduled filibuster votes on three female nominees.

Some of the freshman Republicans, like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, say they haven't had much chance to speak in the talkathon and asked for the extension.

"I never dreamed that in a 30-hour debate you'd have to fight to get two minutes," Graham said.

Graham also threatened to sue to change the Senate rules if Republicans can't break the filibusters, which most senators agree won't happen. "I don't see a way out," Graham said. "Nobody's going to change their votes."

Republicans insisted there was no precedent for refusing to allow votes on the president's judicial choices. Democrats said the GOP-led Senate was championing judges who do not represent American mainstream views.

The first overnight session in a decade did little to close the partisan divide, with Democrats blocking attempts to bring nominees up for votes and Republicans stopping Democratic bills on issues like a higher minimum wage.

Bush was joined in the White House by three of his stalled nominees -- judges Priscilla Owen of Texas and Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown, both from California -- as he demanded that they get an up-or-down vote.

"I have told these three ladies I will stand with them to the bitter end because they're the absolute right pick for their respective positions," Bush said. "The senators who are playing politics with their nominations are acting shamefully."

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said it was regrettable that Bush had "politicized these nominations and raised the level of confrontation within the debate itself."

To block four nominees to federal appeals courts, Democrats have used procedures that required Republicans to come up with 60 votes to advance the president's choices. The four are Owen, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, Mississippi judge Charles Pickering and lawyer Miguel Estrada, who has since withdrawn his nomination.

Democrats are also expected to use the 60-vote requirement to stop confirmation of Brown and Kuhl.

Republicans put off seeking a vote Friday to gradually reduce the number of votes needed to end a filibuster on judicial nominees until a simple majority of 51 sufficed. Instead, GOP senators will seek confirmation votes on Brown, Owen and Kuhl on Friday.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Republicans hoped the debate "might stimulate enough outrage by the American public to sway at least a few more Democratic senators to do the right thing and give these nominees a vote."

Democrats said the Senate has confirmed 168 judges during Bush's term in office, stopping only four. They repeated that Republicans were concentrating on finding jobs for those four nominees while paying inadequate attention to the 3 million jobs lost since Bush took office.

The sideshows overshadowed much of the debate as Republicans brought in cots and coffee and invited conservative groups for hourly news conferences through the night. Frist said he had gotten 53 minutes of sleep, then ran four miles on a treadmill.

Democrats brandished posters saying "168-4," to emphasize their confirmation record. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., had a T-shirt saying "we confirmed 98 percent of President Bush's judges" on the front, while the back said, "and all we got was this lousy T-shirt."

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