Leahy hopeful for Senate compromise

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(Host) Senator, Patrick Leahy, says he’s hopeful that a compromise can be reached on how the U.S. Senate will consider President Bush’s future judicial appointments. But Leahy says the Democrats will not allow radical conservative activist nominees to come to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) It’s been described as one of the biggest games of chicken that has ever faced the United States Senate. On one side are the Republicans, who are angry that the Democrats have used a filibuster to block a vote on some of the President’s judicial nominees on the floor of the Senate.

It takes sixty senators to break a filibuster. GOP leaders are threatening to change the rules of the Senate to ban a judicial filibuster. On the other side are the Democrats. They’re threatening to block virtually all of the operations of the Senate if the Republicans employ their plan.

The GOP proposal is known as the “Nuclear Option.” While the current showdown is over appellate court judges, many observers believe the Republicans want to settle this issue before the president has a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Senate Democratic leaders have offered a compromise. They’ll allow several of the resident’s previous nominees to come to the floor for a vote. In return, they want the Republicans to agree to abandon their plan to prohibit filibusters over judicial appointments. Leahy, who’s the leading Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, says the compromise makes sense.

(Leahy) “The one thing we will not compromise is on the integrity and the independence of the judiciary. I mean, after all, we have confirmed around ninety-five percent of President Bush’s nominees and held back on the ten most radical. No president has ever gotten all their judges.”

(Kinzel) Leahy thinks the GOP plan for the Senate is part of a larger effort to unduly influence members of the judiciary.

(Leahy) “You see what’s going on. Tom DeLay, over in the House, has threatened to impeach judges if they disagree with him. Well, this is baloney. The federal judiciary and their independence is a major part of what makes this country work. It’s the crown jewel of our democracy. And we’re not going to let somebody ruin that.”

(Kinzel) Leahy is hoping that Senate Majority leader Bill Frist and other GOP senators can be encouraged to drop their plan

(Leahy) “It’s going to be difficult for senator Frist, who’s running for president, to step back and others who are running for president, who think this issue is going to elect them. I would point out that by two-to-one the American people don’t want them to do this.”

(Kinzel) Late Tuesday afternoon, Majority Leader, Frist indicated that he’s not interested in the current compromise offered by the Democrats if it means limiting the number of judges who will receive full consideration by the full senate.

If a compromise isn’t reached, the issue is expected to come to a head in several weeks when two of the President’s previous nominees will be sent to the full Senate.

For Vermont Public Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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