WASHINGTON D.C. — It was a dramatic retreat for Congressional Republicans: House Speaker Dennis Hastert told his colleagues to abandon the new ethics rules they came up with in January and go back to the old ones that would allow for an investigation of Tom DeLay.
The Republicans hope that the resulting vote will now inoculate them from charges of trying to shield DeLay— charges that many Republicans thought were beginning to stick.
On the Senate side, nobody seems to be backing down in the fight over judicial nominations.
And that battle, which threatens to tear apart the U.S. Senate, was joined Wednesday by former Vice President Al Gore. In his first major speech this year, it was a thundering Al Gore who railed against Republican efforts to change Senate rules. “What is involved here is a power grab, pure and simple,” said the former vice president.
The vice president referred to his own pain four years ago, when the hanging chad election was settled by the Supreme Court. Gore accepted the ruling, he said, because the judiciary had legitimacy. He charged that if a majority beholden to the religious Right can now limit debate on nominees, judicial legitimacy will be obliterated.
“Religious faith is a precious freedom and not a tool with which to divide and conquer politically,” he said.
In his 45-minute speech, the vice president then referred to some of the president's nominees as fanatics. And he pointed out that because Democrats have approved 95 percent of the president's picks, the number of judicial vacancies is lower than it has been in years.
The vice president's speech came on a day when liberal activists held rallies at 150 courthouses across the country. And the group MoveOn PAC ran television ads in the states of moderate Republicans.
But when it comes to extremism, Republican are pointing at Senate Democrats, who have used filibusters, which require 60 votes to break, to keep 10 judges from getting up-or-down votes on the Senate floor.
In a recent “New York Times” article, former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole wrote that “By creating a new threshold for the confirmation of judicial nominees, the Democratic minority has abandoned the tradition of mutual self-restraint that has long allowed the Senate to function as an institution.”
Dole added that while he hopes Senate Majority Leader Frist does not use the so-called nuclear option, if he does, said Dole, it will be the Democrats' fault.
With both sides worried this confrontation could poison the senate for years, negotiators intensified their efforts today to try and reach a compromise. But no deal has been reached and both sides blame the other.
As one observer noted, it is a strange world in Washington when it is the Senate that can't seem to agree and the House is the one that does.