Judicial Nuclear Option?

Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats on Thursday quietly blocked consideration of President Bush’s 3-year-old nomination of White House aide Brett Kavanaugh as a federal appeals court judge, beginning a process that may trigger a constitutional test.

Under committee procedures, the Democrats can automatically block such a nomination only once. Kavanaugh is expected to be voted out of Judiciary on a straight party-line vote this coming week. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid will come under heavy pressure to conduct a filibuster.

Assuming that Republicans cannot get the 60 votes needed for cloture, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist then intends to invoke the so-called nuclear option to confirm Kavanaugh by a majority vote. The showdown is expected within the next month. The same procedure may be used to try to confirm U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, whose appeals court nomination has been on the Senate floor for a year.

Fears by longtime Democratic donors that Howard Dean as the party’s national chairman would dry up traditional funds were confirmed by last month’s fund-raising figures released by the Federal Election Commission. For the first time, the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees each raised more in a month than the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headed by Dean.

The March numbers showed $6.8 million raised by the DNC, compared with $9.2 by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and $6.9 million by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). The Republican Committee raised $11.8 million in March, almost twice as much as the DNC.

The GOP Senate and House committees raised less than their Democratic counterparts because so many Democratic donors feel more comfortable contributing to Sen. Charles Schumer at the DSCC and Rep. Rahm Emanuel at the DCCC than to Dean.

The self-styled Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), which has released low ratings for nearly all Republicans in Congress, and its sister organization ConservAmerica, are led by contributors to Democratic campaigns.

REP board member Barbara Struthers in the 2004 campaign cycle gave $2,550 to Howard Dean, $2,600 to John Kerry and $1,250 to the Democratic National Committee. ConservAmerica board member Rudolph S. Rasin contributed more than $12,000 to Democratic Rep. Brian Baird of Washington.

REP gave particularly low marks to Republicans targeted by Democrats in this year’s election. That includes Rep. Richard Pombo, who is under attack by left-wing "527" organizations and faces a Republican primary election challenge in California by liberal former Rep. Pete McCloskey. Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee, had a negative-12 rating out of a maximum 100.

Freshman Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina conservative, is seeking a possible Democratic presidential candidate — Sen. Evan Bayh — to join him in easing regulation of business.

DeMint wants Bayh to co-sponsor a bill that would lift requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act on small and medium-sized businesses. Companies with below $700 million in market capitalization could opt out of the act’s onerous Section 404.

Co-sponsorship with DeMint could boost Bayh’s stature as a Democratic friend of the business community. Bayh is a member of the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over Sarbanes-Oxley.

Ohio Republican insiders are sadly predicting the primary election victory Tuesday of Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, an iconoclastic supply-sider, but mourn that his nomination will lead to the state’s first Democratic governor in 16 years.

Blackwell is a clear favorite to defeat state Attorney General Jim Petro, the choice of party regulars. They claim Blackwell’s outspoken support for budget cuts and tax cuts will cost him against Rep. Ted Strickland, the probable Democratic nominee who is an experienced candidate.

Although Blackwell’s Republican critics do not say so out loud, they appear to fear he will lose more votes than he gains as an African-American. However, Blackwell could be a surprise winner if he cuts into the overwhelmingly Democratic black vote.