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Posted by on May 23, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Countdown Beginning On The Nuclear Option

Unless there’s a surprise, Senate moderates appear not to have succeeded and the countdown has begun on the “nuclear option” to ban the use of filibusters on judicial nominees — with Senator Bill Frist even dramatizing the situation by bringing in bed cots.

NOTE: THERE HAS BEEN A COMPROMISE. See our detailed post on the compromise — which includes a BIG blog opinion round up — by CLICKING HERE.

We will leave this post up due to some of the points made that aren’t made elsewhere.

All of this is against the backgdrop of the President making it very clear how he feels about efforts by Senate moderates to head off a vote that some say will change the Senate’s rules and hurl the supposedly more bipartisan chamber into a poisonous, partisan atmosphere not seen in years. Fox News reports:

While a dozen Senate lawmakers looked for compromise in a race against the clock, President Bush on Monday repeated his demand that his judicial nominees get an up or down vote by the full Senate.

“My job is to pick people who will interpret the Constitution, not use the bench from which to write laws,” Bush said from the White House. “And I expect them to get an up or down vote, that’s what I expect. 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.”

So the White House has added an extra layer of second-thoughts to wavering GOPers who don’t want to see the Senate discard even lip service to a tradition that had always put that body a cut above teh more partisan, politically extreme House. And moderates — who sometimes come from states that lean Democratic — will also have to ponder polls. (NOTE: This has just been updated due to WaPo poll). An earlier poll suggested most Americans aren’t paying too much attention to the issue, but if they were they weren’t for the nuclear option. A new Washington Post poll shows pronents of the nuclear option are picking up support, and the public is still tuned out:

Americans are sharply divided along partisan lines over whether to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees in the U.S. Senate, but many are not paying particularly close attention to the issue, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News survey.

According to the poll, 43 percent favor eliminating the filibuster rule on judges while 40 percent want to keep it. Two-thirds of all Republicans support the rule change, while the same proportion of Democrats oppose it.

The survey also found that many Americans are paying little or no attention to the filibuster debate currently roiling the Senate. Slightly more than half–53 percent–said they are following the debate “not too closely” or “not closely at all,” while 47 percent said they are paying at least somewhat close attention.

The latest Post-ABC finding that opinion is split on the filibuster issue differs from the results of other recent surveys. Those polls showed that opponents of abolishing the filibuster rule for judges outnumbered supporters by margins ranging from eight to more than 20 percentage points. A Post-ABC survey conducted last month that asked a different question found the public opposed 2-1 to changing Senate rules.

However, the Post says this poll is worded differently and contains more GOP respondees than the others:

In addition to the wording of the question, the difference between the latest Post-ABC poll and other surveys could be due, in part, to the fact that the current Post-ABC News survey contains an unusually large percentage of self-described Republicans. Thirty-eight percent in the latest sample said they were Republicans, about seven points higher than the average in polls conducted this year by the two news organizations. The proportion of Democrats also was significantly below the yearlong average. The reasons for the large number of Republicans in the latest sample were not clear.

And Frist? Far from trying to defuse emotions and have a low-key vote (even if it’s controversial) the Senate Majority leader is heightening the drama to create maximum imagery that, he seemingly feels, will bolster his commitment to this issue — which is coinidentally supported by a key constitutency (Christian Evangelicals) that he needs (and has assiduously courted) if as expected he runs for President in 2008. As MSNBC reports (link in first paragraph of this post):

WASHINGTON – Cots were brought into the Capitol Monday as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist scheduled an all-night session stretching into Tuesday to dramatize the debate over President Bush’s judicial nominees and the filibusters that Democrats have used to block votes on 10 of them….


The key to Tuesday’s vote will be how many Democrats decide to join the 55 Republican senators in backing a cloture motion. Under the rules of the Senate, it takes 60 senators to vote to end debate.

If Frist does not win the cloture vote, he would then seek a ruling of the presiding officer that further debate was dilatory. If the Senate sustained such a ruling by majority vote, then the filibuster-ending threshold would be lowered from 60 to 51.

Frist’s proposed filibuster rule change would apply only to nominations, not to legislation.

The vote has larger implications than the fate of one nominee — it will likely determine what could be the most consequential battle of Bush’s presidency. At stake: Bush’s ability to steer the courts in a more conservative direction.

So the key issue is whether the President gets to put who he wants on the courts. And whether to that his party should axe a rule that’s been in place for more than 200 years because they have the votes to do so and show political foes that they can.

But a lingering issue — part from the filibuster being an institutional check that allows a minority to thwart or slow down the majority — is whether there is any overall desire on the part of this White House and the GOP to try to work with those who oppose them or simply steamroller them with the votes — even if polls show the overall public may not like what they’re doing.

And a yet bigger issue is the location of the center in American politics. Has it shifted and are Frist, Bush and GOPers where most Americans want to be? Or are they using their margins as power-politics tools to try and shift the center to a space of their — and Evangelical Christians’ — liking? And, if that is indeed the case, will those who feel shut out or virtually slapped aside by the White House and GOP make sure to organize and vote next time? Will there be some buyers’ remorse on the part of those centrists who voted for Bush in the last election? And, if so, are the Democrats too politically clueless and hapless to gain from it?Stay tuned…..

The betting so far: the nuclear option will be triggered and it will succeed.

The question is what happens or doesn’t happen after that.

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