November 14, 2003
After 40 Hours, Democrats Succeed in Blocking 3 Nominees
By NEIL A. LEWIS
ASHINGTON, Nov. 14 — After almost 40 hours of wearying, temper-fraying debate, Senate Democrats succeeded today in blocking three of President Bush's nominees to federal appeals courts, and they appeared to be in good position to block more nominations.
The Democrats stymied the nomination of Judge Priscilla Owen of the Texas Supreme Court for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which sits in New Orleans; Judge Carolyn Kuhl of California for the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, and Justice Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Fifty-three senators voted in favor of ending debate on the three nominations nomination and moving to yes-or-no votes on their confirmation.
But since 60 votes are required to break a filibuster and end debate, the nominations failed to move forward. Today's vote marked the fourth time that President Bush's Republican allies in the Senate have failed to advance Judge Owen, despite the Republicans' majority in the Senate. (There are 51 Republican senators, to 48 Democrats and 1 independent, James Jeffords of Vermont, who generally sides with Democrats.)
On each nomination, two Democratic Senators, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Zell Miller of Georgia, sided with the 51 Republicans.
The White House reacted with anger. "Once again, a partisan minority of senators has thwarted the will of the majority and stood in the way of voting on superb judicial nominees," President Bush said in a statement issued by his spokesman, Scott McClellan. "These obstructionist tactics are shameful, unfair and have become all too common."
Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader, also expressed his frustration, saying: "Over the past year the minority has used the filibuster to deny a bipartisan majority an opportunity to vote up or down, to give advice or consent."
Democrats, and people who oppose the nominations, have accused the Republicans of staging a publicity stunt while knowing all the while what the outcome would be.
"Statesmanlike Democrats have approved 168 Bush Administration right-wing nominees, and blocked just a handful of the most extreme," Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, said in a statement after today's votes. "Meanwhile, the public saw hours of debate that accomplished no change in outcome, while the pressing business of the nation went undone."
The setbacks for the judges, whose records are too conservative in the views of most Senate Democrats, were certain to stoke already hot tempers and bring more charges and countercharges between Republicans and Democrats, especially after the all-night working session that finally ended at 9:30 this morning after more than 39 hours.
The extraordinary session, called by Republicans to complain about Democrats' tactics in blocking some of President Bush's judicial nominees, was more than anything a vivid demonstration of the decline in relations between the two parties.
At one point on Thursday, Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said he was witnessing lots of sanctimony and hypocrisy, and mentioned a pair of Republicans, Senators Robert F. Bennett of Utah and Jon Kyl of Arizona.
Senator Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma, then took the floor to say that if Mr. Harkin did that again, he would have him cited for violating Senate rules that prohibit unclothed insult.
"It's not right," Mr. Nickles said, "to be coming down and mentioning senators by name and using words like `sanctimonious hypocrisy.' "
Mr. Harkin was gone from the chamber by then. In fact, for most of the debate the floor was occupied by only a few senators, at least one from each party to watch the other side and make sure that there were no sudden moves to bring up a judicial nomination or a bill.
Republicans displayed large charts with judicial nominees' photographs, which looked like posters of missing children. Democrats countered with a large display of their own, bearing faces of Clinton nominees who they said had been treated far worse.
It was the Senate's first all-nighter in a decade and bore some features of the historic debates of years past.
In keeping with their effort to depict the session as a political stunt, the Democrats declined to have any cots set up outside the chamber for weary senators. Such a gesture was deemed excessively dramatic by the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Republicans very much wanted the cots, with their implicit message of physical discomfort and commitment. On Wednesday, in the presence of a large press contingent, they had 10 cots installed in the Strom Thurmond Room, named for the South Carolina senator who in 1957 famously held the floor single-handedly for 24 hours 18 minutes to oppose a civil rights bill, a record still unmatched.
But as the debate wore through Thursday, the blankets and neat hospital-cornered sheets remained unrumpled. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, an assistant Republican leader and a chief architect of the session, said it had turned out that they were not needed. "My folks intended to use them if there were going to be lots of quorum calls," he said, meaning repeated roll-call votes to record their presence.
So other than those assigned to speak at specified times, the senators simply went home, or to their Capitol offices. The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, briefly napped on a cot he had put in his outer office.
Republicans repeatedly attacked Democrats for using the threat of filibusters to block four of the president's nominees to federal appeals courts. They are infuriated that although they have 51 votes — a majority, however slim — they have not been able to win confirmation for more than the 28 appellate nominees already approved.
Other candidates who have been blocked are William Pryor Jr., nominated for the appeals court based in Atlanta; Charles W. Pickering for the appeals court based in New Orleans, and Miguel Estrada, for an appeals court based in Washington, who has withdrawn his candidacy.
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