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December 23, 2004
Bush Challenges Democrats To Round Two On Judicial Nominees

After seeing the Senate minority leader lose his re-election bid in part due to Tom Daschle's efforts at obstructing George Bush's judicial nominations, the White House has anted up a second time, promising to nominate the same candidates in the new session of Congress:

President Bush said on Thursday he would renominate a group of controversial judicial nominees who were blocked by Senate Democrats, signaling the start of a second-term battle over the make-up of the nation's top courts.

Emboldened by his re-election victory and gains by Republicans in the Senate, Bush plans to renominate a total of 20 nominees to the nation's court of appeals and district courts, the White House said.

Ten of those nominees drew filibusters or threats to obstruct their progress, an unprecedented action that may have allowed the GOP to convince voters that Democrats overreached in Bush's first term. Harry Reid, Daschle's replacement as minority leader with a smaller contingent of Democrats, has pledged to block "extremist" nominees if necessary. Now he gets the chance -- and the elections of 2006, where the Democrats have to defend 5 red-state seats, hang in the balance.

This move demonstrates the boldness and brilliance of President Bush. Perhaps the single most underestimated politician in American history, Bush has proven himself a consummate poker player, and in this hand he holds most of the aces. The Democrats now understand that voters will hold Senators responsible for obstructionism in those states where Bush's support runs strong, and they cannot afford a fourth losing electoral cycle in 2006. They also face the so-called nuclear option from majority leader Bill Frist, who has threatened to enact a rule change exempting judicial nominees from cloture votes -- following rule-change precedents set by Robert Byrd (D-WV) when he ran the Senate. It would end the filibuster as a tool for the minority to hold the majority hostage and essentially render the Democrats completely toothless on any subsequent judicial nominees.

Stuck between those two pressing political realities, Reid has only two stark choices: press the filibuster and watch Frist checkmate them with the rule change, or work behind the scenes to smooth relations between Senate Democrats and Republicans to reach accommodation on nominees. With the obstructionism that the Democrats initiated the last four years, don't expect the GOP to put much effort into letting Reid off the hook with his caucus.

UPDATE: Reaction from the Democrats has been mostly cranky:

"I was extremely disappointed to learn today that the president intends to begin the new Congress by resubmitting extremist judicial nominees," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement. "Last Congress, Senate Democrats worked with the president to approve 204 judicial nominees, rejecting only 10 of the most extreme."

Reid said Bush's decision to resubmit the nominees was a "disservice" to the public because it distracted the Senate from paying attention to the war in Iraq, health care and other pressing issues.

This might surprise Harry Reid, but a large number of Americans consider filling open federal-court positions to be a "pressing issue," and don't care much for Democratic obstructionism on the process. Did Reid prefer that the positions simply be left open so Reid could spend more time on health care? One would expect the President to fill the open positions, so why would there be any more "distraction" from other legislation -- unless the Democrats plan on trying to hijack the majority again with more filibusters?

Jon Cornyn anticipates this and has his own response:

"We experienced unprecedented filibusters of the president's judicial nominees, which I believe the voters repudiated on Nov. 2, both by returning the president with a decisive victory and defeating the chief obstructionist in the Senate, that was the minority leader.

"The dynamics of 2006 are in play here," Cornyn said. "Those Democratic senators up for re-election in states Bush did very well in have to be looking at what happened to Tom Daschle in South Dakota and wondering if the same fate is in store for them if they continue to obstruct and prevent up or down votes on the president's nominees."

Exactly. For those who wonder at Miguel Estrada, he won't be renominated to an appellate court, but the AP speculates that he may wind up being Bush's first nominee for the Supreme Court.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 23, 2004 1:50 PM

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Captain's Quarters draws attention to President Bush resubmitting to the Senate many of the judicial nominees blocked by Democrats as too conservative, setting off a second-term battle over the make up of the federal courts. [Read More]

Tracked on December 24, 2004 10:16 AM

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