Democrats bluntly served notice Tuesday that they intend to slow or stop most Senate business if Republicans unilaterally change the rules to assure confirmation of President Bush’s controversial court appointments.
Any such change would mark “an unprecedented abuse of power,” Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. “The Senate should not become like the House of Representatives, where the majority manipulates the rules to accommodate its momentary needs.”
Reid, the Democratic leader, exempted military and national security legislation from the threat, and said Democrats would not block passage of measures needed to assure continuation of critical government services.
“Beyond that very limited scope, however, we will be reluctant to enter into any consent agreement that facilitates Senate activities, even on routine matters,” Reid said.
Long struggle over judicial nominees
Reid’s letter marked the latest development in a long-simmering struggle over Bush’s court appointments. Democrats blocked a vote on 10 nominations during the last Congress, attacking them as too conservative to warrant lifetime appointments.
Accusing Democrats of obstruction, Republicans sought to make an issue of it in the elections last fall in which they gained four seats.
Bush has already renominated some of the judges, and Reid has said previously the Democrats’ position has not changed.
Republicans have floated the possibility they will change the rules that have been interpreted in the past to allow opponents of a court appointment to mount a delay that can only be overcome with a 60-vote majority.
Republicans reacted quickly.
“The American people should ask why Democrats are threatening to shut down the Senate,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “They should ask why Democrats are willing to block funding for health care, education, farms and families in order to prevent a simple up-or-down vote on the president’s judicial nominees.”
Letter cites ‘recent press reports’
Thus far, Republicans have not sought a Senate vote this year on any of the judicial appointees whose confirmations Democrats blocked in 2003 and 2004.
In his letter, Reid told Frist that “in recent press reports, you have threatened to use extraordinary parliamentary tactics allowing the Republican majority to rubber-stamp the handful of nominees already rejected and all future Bush nominees.”
The Senate’s rules give strong rights to the minority and, in many cases, permit even an individual senator to interfere with the daily routine of committee meetings, floor debate and votes on legislation.
Reid did not specify the steps he is planning to take if Republicans change the rules. But Democrats said he has a variety of options at his disposal.