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May 6, 2005
Reid Wavering On Filibuster?

Has Harry Reid gotten nervous about the upcoming confrontation on judicial confirmations? The AP's David Espo reports that Reid has privately told Republican Senators that he does not plan on endorsing filibusters on Supreme Court nominees except under "extreme" circumstances:

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has privately told individual Republicans he doesn't intend to block votes on any Supreme Court nominees except in extreme cases, according to officials familiar with the conversations.

At the same time, Reid has declined in private as well as in public to offer the type of firm no-filibuster assurance that might help him prevail over Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. in a struggle over President Bush's conservative court appointments and rules covering future confirmations. ...

"I can never say there will never be a filibuster because I cannot say that," he said recently on the Senate floor. "But I don't think this Senate is in the mood for a number of filibusters."

So far the GOP hasn't bitten on Reid's assurances, and for good reason. Reid wants Republicans to trust his judgment on what he thinks "extreme" means, and he refuses to rule out filibusters or even to give any parameters under which he would endorse one. Given that the Democrats still plan to filibuster the seven nominees that Bush has named to appellate courts, this effort by Reid is as weak as it sounds. It's not a compromise at all, but a "trust me" offer that's laughable on its face.

The fact that Reid feels it necessary to make this effort shows how worried the Democrats have become over the upcoming Byrd Option by Bill Frist. The Senate returns from recess next week and Frist may immediately take up the confirmations of Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, probably in that order. When the Democrats attempt to filibuster, as they have promised to do, Frist will appeal to the president of the Senate, VP Dick Cheney, for an interpretation of the Senate filibuster rule as to whether it applies to the Constitutionally mandated duty to provide advice and consent to the Executive. When Cheney rules the filibuster out of order, all it will take to overcome that interpretation will be 50 Senators and Cheney as a tiebreaker -- and both Mitch McConnell and Norm Coleman have assured the GOP that they have the votes to get there.

Reid cannot afford the loss of prestige that such a change will cost him. Nor can he afford to follow through on his threat to shut down the Senate with parliamentary obstructionism without incurring the ghosts of Newt Gingrich and 1995. In fact, such a manuever will only confirm the Democrats as knee-jerk obstructionists, an image which cost them dearly in the 2004 Senate campaign already. He needs to convince enough Republicans to pull away from Frist, but without giving up the option to block judicial nominees at whim. Those two requirements have proved mutually exclusive, which puts us back to where we were when the session began in January.

Now that Frist appears to have toughened up, Reid finds himself with few options except for noncommittal PR manuevers such as this. He may get even more flexible next week, but unless he's willing to come up with something that eliminates the filibuster, he's not saying anything at all worth repeating.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 6, 2005 2:55 PM

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