Farm-state senators, defying a White House demand to "get down to the business of voting" on Atty. Gen.-designate Edwin Meese III's nomination, launched a filibuster today to force consideration of farm relief legislation.
Just hours after the White House admonished the Senate to act on the long-stalled Meese nomination, Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.) began reading from a 385-page independent counsel's report on Meese.
The delaying tactic, rarely seen in the Senate chamber in recent years, was reminiscent of the days when lawmakers would recite from telephone books and cookbooks to stop civil rights legislation.
Despite the parliamentary delaying tactic, both supporters and opponents of Meese agreed that the presidential counselor's confirmation as the nation's 75th attorney general was inevitable.
President Reagan, asked before the filibuster began what he thought, said, "You know what I think of it; I think it is ridiculous." When a reporter asked if he planned any further action to alleviate the farmers' plight, Reagan said, "We're discussing our program."
Earlier, the White House, asserting it had the votes necessary for Meese's confirmation, implored Farm Belt senators to allow the nomination "to come forward and be voted on, so the new attorney general can take office."
Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) charged that senators threatening to delay the confirmation vote were engaging in "blackmail" to get an emergency agricultural credit bill passed, and hinted he might keep the Senate in session continuously until the deadlock is broken.
But Boren vowed there would be no retreat.
"We intend to delay action on other matters," Boren said in a floor speech. "The motive is simply our strong concern about the agricultural economy."
But White House spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters: "To hold the Meese nomination hostage for farm legislation is just not the way to do business. We want the Meese nomination to come forward and be voted on, so the new attorney general can take office."
Dole maintained "there is a lot of posturing going on" on the farm credit bill, which is holding up a multibillion-dollar interstate highway bill as well as the Meese nomination.
"Blackmail--that's not a solution," Dole said. "They don't even have a bill. They just have a sheet of paper with points on it. . . . I don't believe we can pass a list of ideas."