Washington Prowler

Extraordinary Circumstances

Senate Democrats decide to pretend to deal on judges. Plus: Frist dissed -- by his own.

By 5.18.05

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Democratic Senators Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) have discussed with their leader, Sen. Harry Reid, just how he would define "extraordinary circumstances" in the context of a deal with moderate Republicans to end the Democrats' filibuster-lite. (Yes, lite: not a single Democrat has extended his stay on the floor of the Senate beyond normal legislative working hours since the election last November -- at least those Princeton students carried on 'round the clock.)

The meaning of "extraordinary circumstances," or at least how Democrats would interpret those two words, may ultimately decide whether a deal gets done to sidestep the demolition of Democratic obstruction on the President's judicial nominees. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Chuck Hagel have been hesitant to sign on to any deal that would bar Republicans from using the so-called "nuclear option" to break Democrats' obstruction at any time in the next year, in return for an ill-defined promise by Democrats to use the obstructionist tactics only in "extraordinary circumstances."

"From what we have been told, Reid joked that it was like the old Clinton line about the meaning of the word 'is,'" says a Democratic leadership staffer. "Basically, 'extraordinary' for the leadership would mean any Supreme Court justice nomination that was not approved beforehand by the minority leader and ranking Democrat on Judiciary."

Another Democratic Senate aide said that her boss would consider "extraordinary" to be just about any of the five to ten names of potential Supreme Court nominees floated in the past few months: "There is not a single one that would be considered acceptable. He would feel the need to block all of them."

The deal being discussed by Nelson and some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, isn't making life any easier for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has judiciously focused on ensuring that those nominees most broadly targeted by Democrats are in line for a floor voter soonest. Despite all of Frist's efforts, though, he finds himself almost constantly under attack from his own team.

"You get on these conference calls and all you hear is whining about Frist," says a participant to a conference call that is sometimes held among members of the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters. "Frist isn't the enemy, but you wouldn't know that. Some of these guys have worked on the Hill, and they know why Frist is doing what he is doing on the judicial front, yet they sit there and just bad-mouth him. It's frustrating, and a little embarrassing, especially since these are people who would love to be a part of his inner circle should he run for President."

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