Monday, May 23, 2005

Nuclear Chicken

When the Senate reconvenes this morning at 11:30, the nomination of Priscilla Owen will once again be open for discussion, and Republican leaders have scheduled an all-night session Monday night leading up to a vote sometime around mid-day on Tuesday. If that vote to invoke cloture on the nomination fails, then Frist will deploy the nuclear option, requesting a ruling from Dick Cheney in his capacity as presiding officer of the Senate that filibusters of judicial nominees are not permitted under Senate rules. And then, all bets are off.

Carl Hulse in the New York Times reports on the negotiations for a compromise, basically regurgitating all the quotes from yesterday's talk shows that I noted yesterday afternoon. Hulse also notes that Minority Leader Harry Reid discussed the nuclear option in a commencement address at George Washington Law School yesterday, saying it sets " precedent that will eliminate the essential deliberative nature of the Senate, which was designed by the founding fathers to make it a counterbalance for the passions embodied in the House of Representatives."

In USA Today, Kathy Kiely examines the interest groups from both left and right, noting how both fringes are adamantly opposing centrist efforts to compromise (and why wouldn't they be? anything to help with fundraising!).

Ron Brownstein uses his LA Times column today to comment on the death of leadership-driven compromise in the Senate, noting that since Frist has "thrown up his hands" it is left to "an assortment of mavericks, malcontents, back-benchers, gray eminences and ideological heretics from the two parties to try to settle an unnecessary crisis that could fundamentally alter the Senate's character." Compromise in the Senate is fast becoming irrelevant, Brownstein argues, because more often now than ever, Senators represent states that "lean solidly toward their party in presidential voting. That has reduced the number of cross-pressured senators - Southern Democrats or Northeastern Republicans - inclined to compromise in Washington because they believe it broadens their support at home."

As Slate notes in "Today's Papers," the Washington Post's nuclear option piece is by far the most satisfying for the political junkie in all of us: Shailagh Murry and Charles Babington report that while Frist and Reid have been sticking strictly to the partisan scripts in public, privately they are carefully monitoring the compromise negotiations, trying to herd their respective bands of Senatorial cats, and wooing those elusive undecided senators.

The Post article also reveals that Reid has set up a senator-to-senator lobbying effort, assigning Pat Leahy to work with Arlen Specter, Carl Levin with John Warner, and Joe Lieberman with Susan Collins (all three Republicans chair committees; the Democrats are their ranking members). Aides told Murray and Babington that Democrats would be prepared to filibuster any Republican effort to remove Specter, Levin and Warner from their chairmanships should they oppose the nuclear option (Frist's office says that isn't even being considered).

Amanda Paulson in the Christian Science Monitor writes that while the filibuster is "big news" in Washington (and the blogosphere, which she doesn't mention), "rest of America ... seems to be giving the face-off a collective yawn."

I'll be following the Senate once it opens today as much as I can, and of course will keep an eye out for anything coming out of the negotiation meeting this evening. The hour draws nearer, but none of us should lose hope that compromise and good sense might still prevail in this struggle.

[Update: From ABC's "The Note," a pretty good rundown of what happens in the Senate today:

"The Senate gavels into order at 11:30 am ET and conducts a roll call vote at about 5:30 pm to make sure Senators are back from their recess. Cloture was filed Friday by Sen. John Cornyn, concluding the 25 hours or so of debate on the nomination of Priscilla Owen for the 5th circuit court of appeals.

After the vote tonight, the Gang of Twelve [aka "magic 12"] is expected to meet privately to try to hash out a final deal. We're told by both sides that reconciling paragraphs three and four of the draft plan - which deal with the future and what rights the majority leader and the minority will have - remain the sticking point. ...

The cloture vote, of course, requires 60 ayes for passage under current Senate rules. If it fails Tuesday morning - if the Senate does not vote to cut off debate - the majority leader will ask the presiding officer of the Senate - perhaps Vice President Cheney - to rule that filibustering judicial nominees is out of order. The chair would (presumably) do so, and then that's subject to an up or down vote because the Democrats will immediately object in the form of a request to table the point of order. THAT vote is the key. If a majority agrees to uphold the ruling of presiding officer by REJECTING the Democratic request to table it, then the rules will effectively have been changed and a revote for cloture will occur. 50 + 1 votes will spur an up or down vote."

I'll start working at a semi-live blog effort here when the Senate gavels in around 11:30. -- 10:42 a.m.]


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