President Bush urged the Senate on Tuesday to change its rules and ban the use of filibusters on judicial nominees and require direct yes-or-no votes on all court nominations submitted by the White House.
Bush sent the request in a strongly worded letter as Senate Republicans scheduled a second vote to end a filibuster that Democrats are using to make him muster a 60-vote supermajority in the 100-member Senate to put Miguel Estrada in a key federal appeals court seat.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Bush’s plan probably will never pass in the Senate.
“I doubt very much that we’ll ever permanently change the rules to deny the Senate its institutional responsibilities,” he said.
Republicans on Thursday fell five votes short of the 60 needed under the Senate’s rules to end a filibuster and proceed to a final vote in which only a one-vote majority is decisive.
Democrats insist they will not allow that yes-or-no final vote on Estrada until he answers more of their questions in a public hearing and the White House releases his memorandums he wrote while working in the solicitor general’s office during the Clinton administration.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the Estrada filibuster goes against what the founding fathers wanted from the Senate.
But Democrats said GOP senators have blocked Democratic judicial nominees from getting confirmation votes in the Senate, although there has never been a successful filibuster of a U.S. appeals nominee.
Bush called for the Senate to permanently change its rules so that all judicial nominations are guaranteed a confirmation vote “both now and in the future, no matter who is president or which party controls the Senate.”
Senators in the past have called for similar changes in Senate rules but to no effect.
Lawmakers in both parties are working quietly to find a way around the stalemate on Estrada, who, if confirmed, would become the first Latino to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Democrats on Tuesday rejected Frist’s latest public offer to schedule a second Judiciary Committee hearing for a new round of questioning of Estrada.
“Until he supplies the memorandums from the solicitor’s office, it is not going to change the position of the people on this side of the aisle,” said Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.
However, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested there might be a way around the memorandum question.
“Miguel Estrada has said that he is willing to discuss his papers. Find a way that [that] can be done,” Leahy said to Frist.