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Senate ends talkathon, not stalemate

After two straight nights of debate, the Senate returned to normal order Friday, with Democrats maintaining their filibuster on a judicial nominee they say is too conservative for the U.S. mainstream.

Democrats succeeded Friday in blocking votes on three of President Bush’s appeals court choices, undeterred by nearly 40 hours of marathon speeches during which Republicans accused them of unfairly depriving nominees of their seats. In three successive votes, Republicans came no closer to the 60 votes needed to overcome Democratic resistance so they could hold a final confirmation vote on the candidates.

“OVER THE past year the minority has used the filibuster to deny a bipartisan majority an opportunity to vote up or down, to give advice or consent,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said in frustration at the end of two straight nights of often droning, sometimes angry debate arranged by the Republicans as a protest.

Democrats said they have joined Republicans in confirming 98 percent of the president’s judicial nominations, a better record than when Republicans held up many of President Clinton’s nominees.

The three votes were nearly identical, with only Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Zell Miller of Georgia siding with the GOP effort to move to a final confirmation vote.

With a 53-42 vote, Democrats succeeded in stopping further action on the nomination of Texas judge Priscilla Owen to a seat on a U.S. appeals court. It was the fourth time Democrats have blocked the Owen nomination.

They also voted 53-43 on California judge Carolyn Kuhl and 53-43 on another California judge, Janice Rogers Brown.


Republicans, who hold 51 seats in the Senate, conceded before the votes they had little chance of success.

“I don’t see a way out,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called for an extra nine hours of debate Thursday night and is considering suing the Senate to ban judicial filibusters. “Nobody is going to change their votes.”

Democrats say they warned the GOP that the round-the-clock debate — launched at 6 p.m. Wednesday and continuing nonstop through 9:30 a.m. Friday, almost 40 hours — wouldn’t work.

“I’m terribly disappointed that we are spending the time of this institution on something like this when we need to be spending what little time we have on so many other questions,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

Owen was nominated for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans; Brown for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; and Kuhl for a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.


Bush brought all three women to the White House Thursday to demand their confirmation.

“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.”

With the blocking of Kuhl and Brown, Democrats will have stopped six Bush nominees: Owen, Brown, Kuhl, Mississippi judge Charles Pickering, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor and Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada. Estrada dropped his nomination after losing nine filibuster votes.

The Senate has confirmed 168 Bush judicial nominees.


The GOP considered the nonstop debate a victory, saying Americans now are focused on what they called the Democrats’ “unconstitutional filibusters” of judicial nominees.

Instead of allowing the Republicans to use their 51 votes to confirm nominees, Democrats have used procedures that required Republicans to come up with 60 votes to advance the president’s choices.

Republicans have yet to hit the 60-vote mark on controversial nominations.

“For the first time, people are paying attention to an issue that a lot of people feel passionate about,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., adding that his office has been flooded with calls from supporters. “Now the general public is becoming aware of it and I think it will become much more of a discussion point and an important one.”

Democrats also said they won the debate by showing that the GOP is focused on the wrong issues, spending two legislative days talking about judicial nominees instead of finishing bills revamping Medicare and energy policy, not to mention eight overdue spending bills, in time to adjourn by Nov. 21.

“I think people are amused and wondering why the Senate isn’t working on more important things,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

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