Washington, May 24 (Reuters): Fourteen Senate moderates struck a deal across party lines yesterday to avert a historic confrontation and pave the way for confirmation of several of President George W. Bush’s stalled judicial nominees.
The deal, which pointedly urges the White House to consult the Senate in picking judicial candidates, was reached with less than a day to spare before a showdown vote on a possible rule change so controversial it has been dubbed the “nuclear option”.
Republican leaders had threatened to strip the minority Democrats of their power to block Bush’s candidates for the federal courts.
Had Republicans prevailed ' and it was unclear whether they had the votes ' Democrats vowed to retaliate by raising other obstacles that could have tied the Republican-led, 100-member chamber into knots.
“Armageddon has been avoided. Thank God,” said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat.
Signed by seven Democrats and seven Republicans, the “memorandum of understanding” declares that procedural roadblocks known as filibusters against judicial nominees will only be used in the future “under extraordinary circumstances”.
“Each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgement in determining whether the circumstances exist,” the 14 senators agreed.
The issue has assumed major political significance because at least one retirement is expected from the Supreme Court in the near future.
Special-interest groups from across the spectrum had joined the battle, as the federal courts decide many cultural and social issues, such as abortion rights and gay rights.
The group of moderate senators committed to clearing the way for confirmation votes on three long-stalled nominees to the federal appeals courts ' Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor. Their backers have long maintained that they have majority support, but Democrats called them too conservative.
The group explicitly did not commit to allow votes on two other nominees, William Myers and Henry Saad, so they may have to be scuttled.
With some conservative and liberal groups opposed to compromise, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the negotiators, said, “People at home are going to be upset at me for a while.”
In their agreement, the 14 lawmakers urged the White House to consult members of both parties before submitting judicial nominees for consideration. “Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancour that unfortunately accompanies the ‘advise and consent’ process in the Senate,” they wrote.