Video: Senate showdown looms

updated 5/9/2005 8:58:45 AM ET 2005-05-09T12:58:45

At least some Senate Republicans still hope to negotiate a deal to end the fight over filibusters of judicial nominees.

“My goodness, you’ve got 100 United States senators. Some of us might be moderately intelligent enough to figure this out,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. “We need to work through this.”

Hagel remains publicly undecided about whether to endorse the GOP threat to use their Senate majority to ban such filibusters. But he noted Sunday that private talks were continuing between Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in an effort to work out a compromise.

‘We would ... debase our system’
“We would, I think, debase our system and fail our country if we don’t do this,” Hagel told ABC’s “This Week.”

“But you can’t give up a minority rights tool in the interest of the country, like the filibuster,” he said.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said, “It’s that kind of statement that gives us hope.”

Republicans are considering a parliamentary ruling to ban filibusters against judicial nominees. Any such ruling would be subject to a full Senate vote, with a simple majority required to prevail.

During President Bush’s first term, Democrats filibustered 10 nominees to federal appeals courts and have said they will do so again this year for the seven that Bush renominated. As of late March, the Senate had confirmed 204 judges chosen by Bush, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I know that Senator Frist and Senator Reid both want to work this out,” Hagel said.

60 is threshold to end filibuster
It takes 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to stop a filibuster and end unlimited debate intended to block legislation or a nomination. In the current Senate, there are 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one independent.

The vice president can break a 50-50 tie. Passing a bill or confirming a nominee requires only a simple majority, 51 senators if all 100 senators are present.

“The United States Senate is a minority rights institution unique in the world,” Hagel said. “And I don’t think either side wants to give that up. Now, the other part of this, which I also believe strongly, is that presidents deserve votes on their nominees.”

But he noted that Republicans prevented votes on many of President Clinton’s choices for the federal bench.

“The Republicans’ hands aren’t clean on this either. What we did with Bill Clinton’s nominees — about 62 of them — we just didn’t give them votes in committee or we didn’t bring them up,” Hagel said.

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