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Senators reach compromise that avoids showdown; most nominees to receive votes

WASHINGTON (BP)–In an agreement that keeps both the filibuster and the so-called “nuclear option” in place for future “extraordinary circumstances,” a group of 14 senators from both parties reached a compromise May 23 that confirms at least three of President Bush’s nominees while likely rejecting two, thus avoiding an expected showdown on the senate floor.

Under the agreement, the seven Republicans agree at least in the immediate future not to support the “nuclear” or “constitutional” option, which would have changed the rules to ban judicial filibusters. A vote was set to take place May 24. In return, the seven Democrats agree not to filibuster three of Bush’s most conservative appeals court nominees – Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor. The senators made no pledge either way on nominees William Myers and Henry Saad, meaning they likely still will be filibustered.

Four other nominees that Democrats previously had pledged to stop blocking are not mentioned in the agreement – Susan Neilson, David McKeague, Thomas Griffith and Richard Griffin. Thus, Bush could see seven of the nine blocked nominees confirmed.

For future nominations, the seven Democrats pledged to use the filibuster only in “extraordinary circumstances.”

“And each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether the circumstances exist,” the agreement reads.

The compromise allows Republicans to use the “nuclear option” for future nominees if they believe they are being filibustered for circumstances that are not “extraordinary.”

Most of the 14 senators appeared together at a news conference after reaching the deal.

“This agreement is based on good faith – good faith among people who trust each other,” Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican and one of the signees, said. “It’s our complete expectation that it will work. … We don’t think this will happen, but if an individual senator believes in the future that a filibuster is taking place under something that is not extraordinary circumstances, we reserve the right to do what we could have done [May 24].”

The group of 14 included two who said they were prepared to support the “nuclear option” – DeWine and Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C.

“Judges are going to get a vote that wouldn’t have gotten a vote otherwise,” Graham said. “We’re going to start talking about who would be a good judge and who wouldn’t. And the White House is going to get more involved and they are going to listen to us more.”

Christian conservatives had backed a rule change, believing that the confirmation of Bush’s most conservative nominees would issue friendlier rulings on such social issues as abortion, religious freedom and “gay marriage.” They had strongly supported the three nominees who are part of the agreement.

“I don’t think it’s over,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told Knight-Ridder/Tribune news service. “They kicked the can down the road a little bit.”

Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist and Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid appeared on the senate floor shortly after the agreement was reached, with both saying it was a victory for the “American people.” Both said they disagreed with parts of the compromise but nonetheless offered praises for the group of 14.

“I haven’t had a peaceful night’s rest in at least six weeks,” Reid said.

Said Frist: “It has some good news and it has some disappointing news, and it will require careful monitoring.”

But both Frist and Reid said the compromise maintains components critical to their respective parties.

“There is no need at the present for the constitutional option,” Frist said. “But with this agreement, all options remain on the table, including the constitutional option. If it had been necessary to deploy the constitutional option, it would have been successful.”

Said Reid: “The filibuster is [still] here, and Mr. Smith can still come to Washington.”

Frist said the deal falls short of the principle that every nominee receive an up or down vote.

“If Owen, Pryor and Brown can receive the courtesy and respect of a fair up or down vote, so can Myers and Saad,” he said, before adding, “It is significant that the signers gave up using the filibuster as it was deployed in the last Congress.”

Joseph Lieberman, D.-Conn., noted that the 14 senators signed the deal on the eve of what was expected to be an historic vote.

“We came together and did the unexpected,” he said. “In a senate that has become increasingly partisan and polarized, the bipartisan center held. … Each of us accepted parts of this agreement which were not perfect to our desires.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., applauded Frist for his leadership during the filibuster debate.

“Had we not had a deadline, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” McConnell said.

Republican signees to the agreement were: Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike DeWine (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and John Warner (Va.).

Democratic signees were Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Lieberman, Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and Ken Salazar (Colo.).

Without the seven Republicans, GOP leaders cannot successfully pass the “nuclear option.” Republicans have 55 seats, and at least 50 votes are needed. Likewise, without the seven Democrats, Reid cannot successfully filibuster a judicial nominee. Democrats have 44 seats, and there is one independent who almost always votes with the Democrats. A filibuster requires 40 votes.

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  • Michael Foust