Washington Prowler

GOP Filibuster Fright

The Estrada nomination is a growing concern. Plus: Nancy Pelosi's PR firm.

By 2.10.03

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MORE THAN ESTRADA AT STAKE
Conservative Senators on Capitol Hill are pressing Majority Leader, Bill Frist, M.D. to do to Democrats on the confirmation of Miguel Estrada what Democrats are doing to Republicans on Trent Lott.

"They've been beating us over the head on race relations for months now, yet it's Democrats that are blocking a Hispanic American from being confirmed to a prestigious court seat," says a Republican Judiciary Committee staffer. "I don't see why we aren't being more aggressive."

Frist and his Senate leadership are in a bind over Estrada. They don't have the 60 votes needed to break up a threatened filibuster of the confirmation vote, but it's not clear that Democrats are strongly committed to such blockage.

"They've threatened filibuster before and we've blinked," says the Judiciary staffer. "We ought to call them on it. Fine, knock down a qualified Hispanic American. Here we'll put up another one who's even more qualified. Try knocking that one down, too, and see where that gets you."

That kind of aggressive plan might actually be helpful to Republicans who are desperate to make deep inroads among Hispanic voters around the country. But thus far, the White House and Senate Republican leaders have been hesitant to attempt such a race-based gambit.

"First, it could backfire on us," says a Justice Department staffer involved in searching out potential court nominees. "Second, we didn't put Estrada, or any candidate, for that matter, up because of his color or religion. Estrada should be confirmed because he's qualified. I don't think we should be lowering ourselves to the Democrats' level on these issues."

But the Estrada nomination, and how Frist and others fight for it, is giving Republicans a taste of the what is bound to be a much more contentious and higher stakes struggle once President Bush makes his first Supreme Court nomination.

Conservatives fear that a bloody Estrada fight will scare the Bush White House away from nominating a true conservative to the high court simply to avoid what could be an election-year controversy.

"We have to get Estrada through, if for no other reason than it's the right thing to do," says the Justice Department staffer. "Let's get him seated for all the right reasons, not because he can help us hurt Democrats. If we do it that way, we're no better than they are."

THE PELOSIAN GUARD
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi must have difficulty with words judging by the number of communications staffers she's brought on board. Last Friday came word that she'd hired Melissa Skolfield, formerly an assistant secretary for public affairs at Health and Human Services under Donna Shalala. Skolfield will join three other press/communications senior staffers, all of whom earn in excess of $100,000. Beyond these four communications experts, Pelosi also has two deputy communications staffers working in her personal office and on her leadership staff, respectively.

Now, beyond the six press people working directly and only for her, Pelosi has been rumored to be in the market for at least two to three other "communications consultants" for her leadership office. Former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry was rumored to be in the running for the six-figure contract, along with several other former Clinton press office staffers.

When all the numbers are added up, Pelosi may be budgeting as much as $1 million for communications advice, speechwriting and media relations. And just for her.

So far, Pelosi has earned barely a passing grade for her TV appearances and public comments as leader. "Maybe she really does need that much help," says a Democratic House member. "But that says more about us than about her. If she was that bad a communicator why did we ever elect her to be our voice? We're paying for it now, I guess, in more ways than one."

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