Moderate Republicans admit the Senate is behaving like children who need a good spanking and say time is running out for a deal on confirmation of President George W. Bush’s roster of right-wing federal judges.
“We’re all grown men and women and we’re behaving like we’re in the third grade. Yes, it’s very doable if people of good faith will come together,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Key lawmakers on Sunday said it was still possible a deal could be reached to avert “the nuclear option,” a Republican threat in the U.S. Senate to end the ability of Democrats to block President Bush’s conservative judicial nominees.
But these lawmakers, among a dozen largely moderate senators in search of a bipartisan compromise, acknowledged time was running out.
“We’ll be meeting again tomorrow evening and that will be our last opportunity,” Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told “Fox News Sunday.”
Others said talks could stretch into Tuesday, just before potentially climactic Senate votes following a scheduled all-night session.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get it done or not, but I certainly hope so,” added Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat.
Unless a deal is reached, the Republican-led Senate has set the stage to vote, likely at mid-day on Tuesday, on the so-called nuclear option effort to ban procedural roadblocks known as filibusters against candidates for U.S. appeals courts and the Supreme Court.
If Republicans prevail — and it remained uncertain on Sunday if they had the votes — Democrats have vowed to retaliate by raising parliamentary obstacles to other Bush priorities, which could tie the chamber into knots.
McCain said of compromise efforts: “We have more than 12 senators, people of good will who trust one another who want to avoid this ‘nuclear explosion,’ which could harm the institution in the long run and in the short run keep us from doing the business the people sent us here to do.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, in a commencement addressed prepared for delivery at George Washington University, saluted the efforts of these lawmakers to “bridge the differences. I wish them well.”
While a simple majority is needed to confirm a judicial nominee, 60 votes are needed in the 100-member Senate to end a filibuster, which can block action by allowing unlimited debate.
The framework of a possible deal among the dozen senators, which has been in flux for more than a week, has been to provide enough votes to clear for confirmation some of Bush’s disputed judicial candidates, while rejecting others.
A major stumbling block in this potential compromise has been getting Republicans to agree to preserve the option of judicial filibusters through 2006 in exchange for Democrats promising not to invoke such tactics except in “extreme circumstances.” Reaching acceptable language in the potential deal has been a challenge.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, plans to move to invoke the nuclear option on Tuesday if Democrats, as expected, refuse to clear for a confirmation vote Bush’s nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Owen was among 10 judicial nominees blocked by Democrats in the last Congress. Bush renominated seven of them after winning re-election.
Republicans have accused Democrats of unprecedented obstructionism since filibusters were rarely used on judicial nominees until Bush took office in January 2001. Such tactics have long been used to block or force compromise on legislation.