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But on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced that Judges Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown would be linked this week to breaking the Democratic deadlock. Why? Because of Sen. John McCain.
For all the talk of Sen. Trent Lott trying to mediate a deal with Democrats to break the filibuster and stamp out the fuse on the so-called “nuclear option” by allowing Democrats to nix at least two nominees in return for a vote on the rest and promise not to filibuster potential Supreme Court nominees, it was McCain late last week attempting to broker a similar deal with fellow Republicans and some Democrats.
“He was offering to throw Owen and Brown over the side, and we weren’t going to let that happen,” says a Senate leadership aide. “If he wants to continue to pursue a deal, we were going to limit his options on who to nix. We think taking Owens and Brown off the board limits the Senator’s negotiating options.”
Brown and Owen have been the top Democratic targets in the filibuster debate. According to other Senate sources, McCain has been talking to the usual suspects: Sens. Olympia Snowe, Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins, Chuck Hagel, John Warner, and Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter. In each of the discussions, McCain pointed to Owen and Brown as the two who, if abandoned by the party, could break the deadlock.
“Senator McCain was willing to let Owen and Brown go, if it would get the others confirmed and get the Senate back on track,” says a Judiciary Committee staffer with knowledge of the conversation with Specter. “The chairman was not willing at that time to look at the loss of Owen and Brown as an option.”
Specter apparently felt that being party to any plan that dumped two of President Bush’s top nominations would place him in too much peril with fellow Republicans both on the Judiciary Committee and in his caucus.
Of the six, Hagel, Chafee, and Snowe have been the most receptive to McCain’s entreaties. Chafee, according to sources, apparently feels his passive behavior in allowing John Bolton’s nomination out of the Foreign Relations Committee last week is enough of a sop to the Bush team to allow him to show his true stripes on the judges front.
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