Frist Caves on Filibuster Rule Change for Judicial Nominees

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) said Tuesday he wouldn’t change the Senate’s filibuster rule at the start of the 109th Congress, essentially preserving the Democrats’ ability to block President Bush’s judicial nominees from winning Senate confirmation.

In a speech Tuesday opening the 109th Congress, the GOP leader instead called for cooperation among Republicans and Democrats. “I seek cooperation, not confrontation,” Frist said. “Cooperation does not require support for the nominees. Cooperation simply means voting judicial nominees brought to the floor up or down.”

Former Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), writing for HUMAN EVENTS last month, wanted to change Senate Rule XXII, which governs the filibuster, this week. Hatch noted that only 51 votes would be needed (as opposed to 67 once the Senate convenes) to change the rule, thereby preventing a minority of Democrats from permanently holding up a nominee. Hatch??¢â???¬â???¢s plan would give Democrats time to debate a nominee, but would eventually cut off discussion after four votes on the Senate floor.

Frist did not completely rule out a change to Rule XXII in the future–“I reserve the right to propose changes ??¢â???¬ ¦ and do not acquiesce to carrying over all the rules from the last Congress,” he said–but a Senate aide told HUMAN EVENTS it would be much more difficult to make changes during the middle of the Senate’s session as opposed to the beginning.

Frist’s reluctance to go along with Hatch’s plan–despite offering a Senate resolution in 2003 that did essentially the same thing–leaves Republicans with limited options to counter the Democrat-led filibusters. Because Republicans control only 55 seats– five short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster–they are likely stuck in the same situation they faced in the 108th Congress when Democrats successfully blocked 10 of Bush’s nominees.

“Some I know have suggested that the filibusters of the last Congress are reason enough to offer a procedural change today, right here and right now,” Frist said Tuesday in his statement. “But at this moment I do not chose that path. Our Democratic colleagues have new leadership, and in the spirit of bipartisanship, I want to extend my hand across the aisle.”

Democrats, however, have shown little willingness to cooperate with Frist and allow the Senate to have an up-or-down vote on Bush’s judicial nominees. In fact, when Bush renominated 20 judicial candidates on Dec. 23 who didn’t win confirmation in the 108th Congress, Democrats immediately pounced on the President.

“I was extremely disappointed to learn today that the president intends to begin the new Congress by resubmitting the nomination of extremist judicial nominees,” Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) said in a statement at the time. “Last Congress, Senate Democrats worked with the President to approve 204 judicial nominees, rejecting only 10 of the most extreme.”