The Senate braced for a showdown on judicial nominations this week even as some moderate Republicans stepped up pressure Sunday on the leadership of both parties to broker a compromise and avoid a climactic vote that could alter the chamber’s way of doing business.
Republicans and Democrats claimed they were garnering enough votes to support their party’s position in the rapidly evolving brinkmanship. Others were said to be attempting a backdoor effort to resolve the confrontation.
The maneuvering centers on a plan by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to challenge Democrats’ use of the parliamentary filibuster to block confirmation of a number of President Bush’s nominees to the federal bench.
Frist has scheduled debate this week on two stymied appeals court nominees, and he has threatened to ask the Senate to restrict the use of the filibuster if opponents use it against the pair.
On Sunday, a prominent Republican, echoing the concerns of Democrats, said he was worried that weakening the right to filibuster could have implications beyond the wrangling over judicial nominations.
“On the fundamental issue, I believe we are skating over very thin ice here with regard to the continuity of life in the Senate as we’ve known it,” Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
“I’m opposed to trying to eliminate filibusters simply because I think they protect minority rights, whether they’re Republicans, Democrats or other people,” he said.
Lugar stopped short of saying whether he would join with Democrats to oppose any effort to cut off the filibuster. He said it was incumbent on party leaders Frist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to resolve the dispute.
“He needs to negotiate, and I believe he’s been doing so,” Lugar said of Frist. “It’s essential that he and Sen. Reid succeed.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has previously called on the Republican majority to work with Democrats to resolve the conflict, reiterated his hope that a deal would be cut.
One option that McCain and others have been exploring would include a pledge from Democrats to allow a certain number of disputed nominees to receive a vote on the Senate floor. In exchange, Republicans would agree to drop the idea of changing the filibuster rules for a specified period.
“I believe that, as reasonable people, as we have in the past in the Senate, we should sit down together and work this out,” McCain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said on “Fox News Sunday” that Democrats, aided by a handful of Republicans, were lining up enough support to defeat an effort to restrict filibusters.
“We think we’re down to trying to find maybe one or two Republican senators who will stand up for the traditions of the Senate and not try to change the rules in the middle of the game,” Durbin said.
But on the same program, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he had lined up more than enough votes to assure a GOP victory.
“If all additional discussions fail, if the cloture vote [to end debate] on one of these judges fails, I believe we will have the votes,” McConnell said.