Sunday, May 08, 2005

Nuclear Option Sunday Update

- Carl Hulse in the New York Times reports "With the Senate clock ticking toward a momentous procedural clash over judicial nominees, lawmakers and advocates on each side are readying a final push to win over the few uncommitted lawmakers and frame the fight to their best political advantage." Hulse adds that Monday will mark the beginning of a "day-by-day" litany of stunts and demonstrations by both sides in the nuclear option debate leading up to a floor showdown on the issue sometime in the very near future.

James Dobson of "Focus on the Family" has taped a radio addresss to be aired Monday, Hulse notes, in which he will call the judiciary "the last playground of the liberal left" and say "Nothing good took place last November, only the potential for something good." Sen. Chuck Schumer used the Democratic weekly radio address Saturday to make the opponents' case against going nuclear, charging the Republican leadership with "trying to undermine the age-old checks and balances that the founding fathers placed at the center of the Constitution and the Republic."

Hulse adds that both Democratic and Republican strategists are working feverishly to try and figure out how to make the judicial confirmation issue a winning one in the 2006 election cycle: Democrats to be portrayed as "obstructionists", Republicans as "trying to change the rules in the middle of the game." Democrats say they will try to make the case that the GOP is "being led by those far out of the mainstream, is arrogant and abusive of its control of Congress and the White House." Says Schumer: "The more this small group of extremists calls the shots, the better chance Democrats have of regaining the Senate in 2006." Probably not a bad guess, if the Democrats are able to make that case in several key Senate races.

Charlie Cook nabs a paragraph in Hulse's story, noting "Democrats could benefit initially from the showdown if the public interpreted the Republican move as a power grab. But voters could eventually side with Republicans if they succeed in making Democrats seem petulant and obstinate," says Hulse.

The timing of the showdown vote still seems up in the air, according to the Times. It could come as early as this coming week, but more likely at some point before the end of May.

- Writing in the LA Times, Janet Hook writes: "The Senate is careening toward a showdown over federal judges that poses enormous political risks for Republicans and Democrats. But neither side seems willing or able to stop it." Similar to Hulse's piece, Hook analyzes the various risks for both sides in proceeding down the nuclear route, managing to find different sources to quote.

Hook quotes a "senior Republican Senate aide" as saying "There are other things that need to be done. There are those who have been around here a long time who are saying, 'Don't we have better things to be doing right now?'" May they talk some sense into Frist & Co. before it's too late.

- Over in the Washington Post, the editorial board takes a whack at the nuclear option. While the board agrees that "presidents are generally entitled to deference in judicial nominations and that their nominees are generally entitled to up-or-down votes," they oppose the Senate rules change backed by the "Justice Sunday" crowd in favor of "a compromise that leaves the rules intact but establishes procedures, accepted by both sides, that presume fair consideration for every nominee."

The Post editorial goes on to make the excellent point that "It's rarely a good idea to fashion long-term institutional change for short-term tactical benefit," suggesting that if the Senate wants to rid itself of the filibuster, a rule change should be proposed that would take place in January, 2009, allowing for meaningful debate on the issue with political elements removed from the equation.

As we move forward toward what appears to be an inevitable floor confrontation over the nuclear option, it is going to be up to those of us in the middle, moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents, to continue attempting to avert catastrophe. Those on the extreme right and left flanks want nothing more than nuclear war, so that they can make political hay. Those of us concerned with the long-term health of the political institutions of America must stand strong and unwaveringly opposed to this precipitous and unnecessary action, and must continue to urge bipartisan compromise that will avert nuclear winter in the Senate.


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