Saturday :: Apr 16, 2005

Nuclear Winners And Losers

by pessimist

The debate in the Senate over Bu$hCo judicial nominations is reaching a critical mass this weekend. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is drawing upon the infamous Red State Religious to pressure those wavering over the upcoming vote by appearing on a religious show Sunday.

Bill Frist, the Republican leader of the US Senate and strongly tipped to run for the presidency in 2008, is to join a broadcast with right-wing Christian evangelicals in which Democrats will be accused of "standing against people of faith" by seeking to block George Bush's judicial nominations. The event, organised by the Family Research Council (FRC), has been dubbed "Justice Sunday".

The FRC is one of several Christian organisations trying to use the Republican domination of Washington to pass conservative and right-wing legislation. The battlegrounds for such groups are the issues of gay marriage and abortion. The group's website declares: "The FRC champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilisation, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society ... Believing that God is the author of life, liberty, and the family, FRC promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society."

Justice for whom?

There is something very important about this issue that most of us didn't know (Thanks to the Christian Science Monitor for bring this to our attention.):

Conservatives near lock on US courts

GOP-appointed judges already control 10 of 13 appeals courts.

President Bush is already well on his way to recasting the nation's federal appeals courts in a more conservative mold. Republican appointees now constitute a majority of judges on 10 of the nation's 13 federal appeals courts. As few as three more lifetime appointments on key courts would tip the balance in favor of GOP appointees on all but one appeals court - the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

This explains why Democratic senators are prepared to fight so hard to block key judicial nominees, and why Mr. Bush and his allies in the Senate are prepared to fight equally hard for their confirmation.

It looks bleak, but there are some signs of hope. There are signs that the solid front that the Bu$hCo Republicans presents as representing their relations with America's religious people is merely a Potemkin Village.

Marshall McLuhan once famously claimed that when it came to television, the medium is the message. So it appears to be with the GOP. There is much evidence to suggest that if the Republican Party says it, the Red Staters believe it and that settles it! But that may not necessarily be so. The iron grip once held upon the minds of the Red State Religionists may in fact be slipping:

The Republican monopoly on religion
April 15, 2005

Ron [Reagan]: Here we go again Monica: Republicans have a new idea for using religion, for all the wrong reasons. Now they're going to paint Democrats as "against people of faith"—for blocking President Bush's judicial nominees.

On the front page of the New York Times this morning, a story that Senator Bill Frist will lead the charge. According to the paper, Frist plans to give a speech to be telecast in conservative Christian churches across the country.

Monica [Crowley]: But there's nothing wrong with taking the debate over stalled judicial nominees to the people who have a huge stake in it. And besides, I never see a New York Times headline, and I don't hear many liberals complaining, when Democrats make their case to their base. Remember back in October when John Kerry went stumping for votes at a black Baptist church in Miami? Where were the cries for separation of church and state back then?

La Belle Crowley doesn't understand that appearing at a church to promote one's campaign is a whole lot different than using a church to promote a political agenda. Certainly, religious people seem to, based on this sample of reader commentary which continues from the above post:

Please remember what Senator George Mitchell said to Oliver North during the Iran-Contra Hearings: "Although he's regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics." Now our Senate Leader is attacking the religious convictions of the opposition party. —Anonymous

I am a Republican and I go to church. I cannot agree with what is going on with the republicans trying to own "regligion" and/or "God." I almost always agree with Ron's position and I am tempted to become Democratic due to the republican rhetoric. Do the religious Republicans believe in free will?
—Maria, Wynewood

People should be utterly shameful for their desire to label Democrats as unreligious people. Just because you seek protection for the underdog, and you want the Constitution of the United States to uphold its purpose in protecting the minority, does not make someone unreligious. I find it funny that "conservatives" wanted science to keep Terry alive, but they do not want science to advance any farther through stem cell research that may save hundreds or thousands of lives. Being Democrat does not make you non-religious. Moreover, wanting to uphold separation of Church and State should not keep you from being religious either.

I find it laughable every time I hear Monica make mention of the "liberal media," which she is obviously not a part of. Neither of course is Bill Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, the Washington Times and countless other written and television media.

Once the conservatives have convinced the country that the liberal media boogieman is responsible for exaggerating all of their shortcomings and failures, they have effectively wiped out any accountability for their actions because it can all be chalked up to a left wing conspiracy.
—Christopher Wade, Waterford, Miss.

I'm confused! I'm a Catholic democrat. As I understand the Bible, Jesus said to protect and help feed the poor. I don't think they understand the teachings of Jesus and would urge them to go back to the Bible.

The Republican so-called "religious" base who back George Bush apparently agree with his politics - the politics that are over-taxing the poor and middle class, taking away school lunches, taking policemen off the streets, closing firehouses, starving old folks, etc.
—Carol M.

I do not like it when people use religion for their political gain. Jesus had a similiar problem with the Pharisees.
—GWB in Neb.

So if some in the religious community are beginning to awaken to the irreligious behaviors of Bu$hCo, that would explain this article:

GOP fears it's losing Frist v. Reid

Senate Republican leaders were due to meet amid rising concern that they are being beaten on the nuclear option”by Sen. Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) public-relations war room.

The GOP's talks follow a meeting last week in which aides warned Bob Stevenson, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) communications director, that something needs to be done to win back lost ground, a participant said. "I think there’s a realization that this particular [Democratic] effort has to be countered and they’re in full-scale attack mode," a GOP aide said, adding, "I think that people know that we’ve got a serious problem here."

At a closed-door luncheon Tuesday, members of the Democratic caucus were presented a stack of more than 260 press editorials from 41 states and the District of Columbia arguing against changing Senate rules to prohibit judicial filibusters.

That's quite a change from a year and a half ago, when many editorial boards criticized Democrats for blocking confirmation votes on President Bush’s judicial nominees.
"There's been a lot of talk. Advice has been solicited from me and others. I've been told that a plan will be submitted tonight. It will be tweaked," said the GOP aide.

Another GOP aide said: "There's a general sense in the rank and file that we are a little in the hole and that Democrats have been more aggressive on messaging, that we've kind of gone dark. Democrats have gotten a head start and defined the issue ahead of us."

The turnaround has flummoxed Senate Republicans and conservatives. They say it is incredible that Democrats who have 'undone 200-plus years of precedent' by filibustering nominees have managed to portray Republicans as overreaching.

"They turned it around," the aide said, and "one can suggest that it's because of our lack of organized countermessaging."

Hence the appearance of Frist on this 'religious' program.

But the Democrats are, for once, on top of this ploy:

Reid Calls Frist's GOP Politics 'Radical'

The Senate's top Democrat accused Majority Leader Bill Frist of engaging in "radical Republican" politics on Friday and urged him to cancel a videotaped speech to a group that claims President Bush's conservative court nominees face opposition on religious grounds. "It is really beyond the pale. He should rise above this," Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said of Frist, R-Tenn. "God does not take part in partisan politics."

"This goes too far, and I hope Sen. Frist would stop and reflect," said Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat. He joined Reid at the news conference after criticizing Frist in a speech on the Senate floor.

Under pressure from conservatives, Frist is threatening to strip Democrats of their ability to block votes on court nominees. While a formal change in the Senate's rules requires a two-thirds vote, Republicans argue that a mere majority is sufficient to outlaw filibusters on candidates for the bench.

Democrats blocked confirmation on 10 of the president's first-term judicial nominees while confirming 204. The president has renominated seven of the 10, and Democrats have again threatened to employ filibusters to prevent them from coming to a final vote. It takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, and Republicans, with 55 seats, lack the strength to do so as long as Democrats remain united.

At his news conference, Reid predicted Republicans won't stop there.

"Judges today. We'll have Cabinet officers tomorrow. Then we'll just have simple legislation" that is placed beyond the reach of a unified minority, he said. "What is going on ... is not Republican mainstream politics. It is radical Republican politics."

Democrats have at least 47 solid votes against the Republican proposal, including GOP Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and John McCain of Arizona. In addition, Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine have expressed concerns about changing Senate practices on the issue.

It is vital to Republican plans to brea this bloc by pealing away at least one of these votes, which would result in a tie:

A 50-50 vote would allow Republicans to prevail because Vice President Dick Cheney could break the tie.

And he would:

Cheney backs filibuster curb

If Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist launches an effort to bar filibusters of judicial nominations — a step that senior aides say is imminent and is known as the "nuclear option" because Democrats say they would retaliate by blocking all but the most crucial legislation for the rest of the two-year congressional session — Cheney said he, as Senate president, would back the move.

"If the decision is made" to change the rules, Cheney said, "I would certainly work with Senator Frist to achieve our objective. I would support an effort to restore the constitutional practices that existed before the Democrats started using the filibuster for judicial appointments," Cheney said aboard Air Force Two as the Senate stands on the brink of a partisan showdown on the issue.

Retelling The Lie

The vice president brushed aside the concerns of some, including a handful of Republicans, that changing the rules would trample on minority rights and could backfire for the party in a future Congress controlled by Democrats. "Democrats are the ones who altered the traditional practice," he said. "It's important that that precedent not be allowed to stand.

"If you allow that filibuster precedent to stand," Cheney said, "in effect you've raised the bar for confirmation of judicial appointments to say that you've now got to have 60 votes to get a judge confirmed. That was never the case before. That should not be the case now."

Republicans have used those and other Senate tactics to hold up Democratic nominees for other posts in the past and have tried to use filibusters against Democrats' judicial picks. GOP leadership never provided a floor vote for 24 of former President Clinton's appellate-court nominees; only two received a committee hearing.
Democrats have used filibusters, which invoke the right of senators to debate any matter indefinitely unless a two-thirds majority agrees to cut off discussion and vote, to block 10 of Bush's 200-plus nominees.

Sounds like the Republicans are ahead on points in the filibuster race, 24-10!

It turns out that there is a Bu$h family precedent for participating in filibusters:

Sen. Prescott Bush, R-Conn., President Bush's grandfather, sleeps during a 1960 marathon session over civil rights legislation.
- U.S. Senate Historical Office

Just what is this 'tradition' that is being defended so fiercely?

Senate on brink of 'nuclear' filibuster war

It's a dispute so steeped in parliamentary minutiae that only someone who has memorized Robert's Rules of Order can appreciate the finer points. Even so, a battle over the Senate filibuster has become one of the hottest issues in the nation's capital this spring. Essentially, it's a debate over senators' right to be as wordy as they want to be. But it's not as trivial as it sounds.

A filibuster is an attempt to block a bill or a nomination by talking it to death. Filibusters can occur in only one chamber of Congress: the Senate, where rules require a supermajority of 60 of the chamber's 100 members to end debate on an issue and move to a vote. That means the majority party, unless it has an overwhelming edge, must be able to pick up some bipartisan support to get important legislation passed.

For nearly 200 years, the filibuster has made the minority party a force to be reckoned with in Congress.

"The Senate is one body of government that protects minority rights," Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said recently. "The filibuster is very important to that."
It inspired the 1939 film classic Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (in which Jimmy Stewart played a naive senator who led a filibuster to thwart efforts to smear him). The filibuster also has led to some of the darker moments in the Senate's history: From the mid-19th century through the 1960s, the filibuster was Southerners' tool of choice for blocking civil rights legislation.

Until 1917, a single senator could sustain a filibuster if his lungs and bladder held out. But that changed after 11 senators opposed to U.S. participation in World War I filibustered a bill permitting the arming of merchant ships. President Woodrow Wilson denounced them as "a little group of willful men," and the public outcry was so great that the Senate voted to allow debate to be ended by a two-thirds majority vote. In 1975, after a series of filibusters on civil rights bills, liberal Republicans and Democrats got that threshold dropped to a three-fifths majority, or 60 votes.

Today, the prospect of Democratic filibusters to prevent the Republican-controlled Senate from confirming some of Bush's most conservative judicial nominees has infuriated Republicans, whose 55-vote Senate majority is five short of the number they need to end a filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is mulling a rules change that would ban its use against presidential nominees. In the tradition-bound Senate, this is considered such a radical proposal that it has been referred to as "the nuclear option" by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and others.

The fight looms as one of the most momentous showdowns of the congressional session. It could set the stage for the confirmation of the next Supreme Court justice, making it easier for the president to appoint a hard-line conservative. Or it could tear the Senate apart and send its legislative agenda the way of the National Hockey League's canceled season. That could end the president's hopes of making a restructured Social Security system part of his legacy.

Frist Blinks

Reid, D-Nev., says his party would retaliate by blocking all but the most crucial legislation for the remainder of the two-year congressional session. In a recent letter to Frist, Reid noted that the Senate requires the unanimous consent of members for most day-to-day operations. "We would decline to provide such cooperation in the future if you implement the nuclear option," Reid wrote.

Frist expressed a determination to break the judicial filibuster, calling it "tyranny by the minority" in a speech to the conservative Federalist Society earlier this year. But he has since seemed less eager to call the Democrats' bluff. "We need to lower the rhetoric," he told reporters this week.

Counting On Your Friends

Republican senators are worried about giving up a cherished senatorial privilege that they used when outnumbered by Democrats. Sen. John McCain, a Republican maverick from Arizona, weighed in. He told MSNBC that he would oppose his own party's effort to block Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees.

Filibusters have seldom been used against judge nominees. Frist says the Democrats' use of the filibuster against Bush's nominees is unprecedented. But Democrats differ. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., says Republicans killed 60 of President Clinton's judicial nominations by bottling them up in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy calls that a "pocket filibuster."

No more cots in cloakrooms

Today's judicial filibusters haven't been nearly as colorful as filibusters past. In the television age, senators have avoided round-the-clock talkathons, which had led their predecessors to set up cots in cloakrooms and rig up plastic bags so they wouldn't have to interrupt their orations for a bathroom break. Instead, they just agree not to talk about the filibustered topic.

Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, thinks that calling the Democrats' bluff on Bush's judges and making them conduct a real filibuster might be a better way to end it than changing the rules. But he doesn't believe today's senators would stand for it. "They just don't have people who are up to sleeping in cots, giving up their fundraisers and other activities," Ornstein says.

Senate filibuster clash will reverberate across America

The duel over judges is not merely a featured event on the inside-the-Beltway version of the Extreme Sports Channel. Democrats and Republicans have genuine ideological differences over who should fill seats on the bench.

Whether the judges are Bush judges or Democratic-selected ones, they will set the rules for an American's personal and business life: everything from how the Endangered Species Act restricts her use of her land, to whether her kids will say prayers in the public school they attend. A Bush-appointed judge such as Jeffrey Sutton, age 43 when confirmed to the appeals court, will be making such rulings perhaps until 2040.

In a possible indication that the week of April 25 may be the one he has chosen for the filibuster showdown, Frist has scheduled an appearance at an April 24 "Justice Sunday" television broadcast sponsored by the social conservative group Family Research Council. The group said the filibuster of judicial nominees is "being used against people of faith."

Reid summoned reporters to his office Friday and denounced Frist's plan to take part in the FRC event. The allegation that Democrats had used the filibuster against religious people "is really too much," Reid said.

"They are insisting now that judicial nominees meet a religious test," said Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. He said in questioning judicial nominees, "We can not and will not ask a person who is a nominee what his faith might be or whether he has one. So it is not a matter of faith. From what I gather, they are arguing that we should only bring forward nominees who have beliefs that are consistent with their religious beliefs. That, to me, is troubling and clearly unconstitutional."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has handed Democrats ammunition by threatening judges. He apologized Wednesday for warning after Terri Schiavo's death that the judges who didn't intervene to keep her alive would need 'to answer for their behavior.' But DeLay did not retreat from his reminder that the Constitution gives Congress the power to restrict federal courts’jurisdiction.

DeLay's comments, as well as those of conservatives outside Congress supporting the impeachment of judges, have convinced Democrats that they now have the upper hand in the battle for Americans’'hearts and minds.'

The Seat Of The Debate

What Republicans may need at this point to mobilize public opinion to their side is a new court ruling that might convince people that judges are acting egregiously: something along the lines of the Ninth Circuit's decision 2002 striking the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance or the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas sodomy decision.

The showdown on judges seems inevitable because conservatives have concluded that judges often invent extra-constitutional rulings and defy the will of Congress and the people. "Are they the rulers in America? That's what I get asked by people," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R- Kansas. "Particularly when judges deal with such fundamental social issues that go counter (to the people), these are issues the country ought to engage. You've got marriage and (judges) going counter to the whole country, so is there nobody that can push back against the courts?"

Someone pushed Tony "The Fixer" Scalia!

The rhetoric on both sides has reached new heights or, perhaps more accurately, sunken to new depths. When Justice Antonin Scalia made a speech at New York University Law School this week, Eric Berndt, a law student, challenged Scalia's dissent in the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that declared sodomy was constitutionally protected.

"Do you sodomize your wife?" Berndt asked Scalia.

Leading The Charges

The filibuster struggle is a test of leadership not only for Reid and for Frist, who has presidential ambitions, but for Bush and Karl Rove as well. Three Republican senators, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and John McCain of Arizona, have said they would vote 'no' on the Frist filibuster proposal. A few other Republicans, such as New Hampshire's John Sununu and Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, haven't yet publicly committed themselves.

In the hope that reasonable senators might find a way out of the confrontation, Specter was still gamely trying this week to persuade his Democratic colleagues to not filibuster. Specter contended that last year's filibuster victims (notably William Pryor, Priscilla Owen, and Janice Rogers Brown) are really not ideological cranks and he supplied evidence of their judicial rulings to make his case.

"I've circulated an analysis of Justice Owen's record,"”he told reporters Thursday. "She is broadly considered to be against Roe v. Wade (the 1973 abortion decision) because of decisions she handed down on judicial bypass. Careful analysis, which I've made of her 13 decisions shows that she respects Roe.“We've circulated Judge Pryor's five opinions in support of the district judge in (the) Schiavo (case), so we're working on it," Specter said.

Tears Begin To Fall

Frist felt compelled to acknowledge this week that he’d lost the battlefield initiative to his adversaries.

"All of you are covering what they (the Democrats) are saying, while I am simply trying to work across the aisle. Our voice is being lost," he told reporters, in a somewhat plaintive admission.

A leading Democratic filibuster advocate, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, could not help but gloat Thursday.

"What's amazingly gratifying is that, in poll after poll, the public understands that the 'nuclear option' is an over-reach…- and that the right to filibuster judges should be kept," Schumer said. "The public has this sense that there's extremism in the air. The debate seems to be going in our direction far more quickly than I ever imagined.

"If you appoint a lifetime judge who has huge powers, there ought to at least be a strong leaning that they have some bipartisan support, that they have broader support than just 51-49," Schumer said.

But Republicans think the political calculus favors them. Looking toward next year's Senate elections, Republican strategist Jonathan Baron said, "If I were a Democratic incumbent in a Republican-leaning state, I'd be a lot more worried about the arguments Republicans could make against me on this issue than if I were a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state."

Clearer political vision is evident:

Two Republican Senators Split on Filibusters

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he would vote against the possible rule change, also opposed by Democrats, while Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi said he would support it.

Cochran said in statement: "There should be no question in anyone's mind about my intentions. I will work ... to end filibusters of judicial nominations in the Senate."

"Look, we won't always be on the majority," McCain said. "I say to my conservative friends, some day there will be a liberal Democrat president and a liberal Democrat Congress. Do we want a bunch of liberal judges approved by the Senate of the United States with 51 votes if the Democrats are in the majority?" McCain said.

This rhetorical question isn't sitting well with Republicans:

McCain irks Republicans over anti-filibuster option

Mr. McCain particularly outraged conservatives by telling Mr. Matthews that Republicans have done the same thing to Democrats in the past, a point that Republicans dispute. Conservatives responded yesterday by coordinating a three-pronged attack on the Arizona Republican aiming to either flip him or kill any hope he may have of running for president again in 2008.

"He will have no presidential hopes if he pursues this course," said Manuel Miranda, a former Frist staffer who now chairs the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters. "This very well may be the first primary campaign between Bill Frist and John McCain."

Mr. Miranda's coalition -- a group of more than 150 conservative organizations that don't normally take part in judicial fights but are deeply involved in Republican primaries -- has begun a letter-writing and e-mail offensive in not only Mr. McCain's home state of Arizona, but also the key primary states of Michigan and South Carolina. In a letter to activists, Mr. Miranda urged conservatives of every stripe to plead with Mr. McCain to switch his position.

It was in Michigan that Mr. McCain achieved his surprise upset over candidate George W. Bush in the 2000 primary campaign and it was in South Carolina that Mr. McCain was defeated by fervent conservatives. Mr. McCain has been traveling in Michigan, South Carolina and other primary states, fueling speculation that he will run again in 2008.

"If Senator McCain refuses to stand up for fairness, it will damage his carefully crafted image and whatever aspirations he might have," said Marshall Manson with the Center for Individual Freedom, one of the groups in Mr. Miranda's coalition. "The people who care about this issue are watching carefully, and they have long memories."

Mr. McCain said yesterday he is not worried. "That's fine," he said. "We just returned from Michigan and we had great crowds. I'm very popular there, which I'm grateful for."

Republicans really wish that John McCain would get with the program - just like another former black sheep:

Lott Puts 'Little Bump' Behind Him
Ex-Senate Leader Rebuilds Power Base

All Washington thought he was finished. "But they don't know us as Mississippians," Lott chortles as heads nod around the dining room. "You get back up on it and you ride again."

It takes a certain determination for a politician to fall so spectacularly from grace and then refuse to go away. Lott, 63, a shipyard worker's son who grew up in Pascagoula, is clawing his way back to power because, well, he can't help himself. "I'm just rooting around trying to find ways to be useful," Lott said recently during a visit back home.

Lott's demise after six years as majority leader and Republican leader was self-inflicted. At Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th-birthday party Dec. 5, 2002, Lott noted Thurmond's 1948 run for president on the anti-civil-rights "Dixiecrat" ticket and said that "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years" had Thurmond won. It triggered a national furor.

African Americans seethed, some conservatives joined liberals in calling for his resignation, and President Bush sharply criticized him. Lott resigned as majority leader-designate in late December and was succeeded by Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a favorite of the White House.

Lott took his consolation prize, the chairmanship of the Rules and Administration Committee, and turned it into a power base for dispensing favors, such as new computers and extra office space. He increased his profile by helping to organize Bush's second inauguration in January.

In recent months, Lott also has made a determined effort to ingratiate himself with some of the Senate leaders who helped depose him -- although his relationship with the White House appears to remain strained. This new, cooperative spirit in the Senate has raised a few eyebrows among Lott's colleagues, who wonder whether he's plotting a leadership comeback.

Lott does little to discourage speculation that he might make another run at a leadership job. "If the right circumstances came along, I might do it again," he said. Lott said he finds Senate whip the most appealing post, because the whip is in the thick of everything but "doesn't have to make every damn decision," as Lott puts it.

Lott is legendary for winning federal projects and military contracts for his state -- especially for the shipyards in his home town of Pascagoula [assuming that these yards don't get closed in pending military base closures] -- and for his no-holds-barred efforts to bring investment to his state.

Another Lott target is a White House commission on military base closings, which the senator views as a threat to installations in Mississippi. Hoping to slow the commission's work, he blocked the confirmation of the commission's designated chairman, Anthony J. Principi. Last week, Bush used his recess-appointment power to install Principi, along with eight other commission members, while Congress was away on an Easter break.

"He did what he had to," Lott said of Bush. The senator said he is considering his next move. "Everything in the Senate relates to everything else," Lott told reporters cheerfully. "I'm never done." But he said he does "make it clear" that he was not pleased with how Bush responded to the controversy over his 2002 Thurmond birthday party remarks, and that "I would have been leader today if Frist hadn't made his move."

Bill Frist is reportedly going to retire at the end of this term - and he has other enemies to worry about besides Trent Lott:

Frist's intolerance

JUST AS the number two man in the US House, Tom DeLay. is being abandoned by a few brave Republicans who, we hope, will be the vanguard of a growing movement, the leader of the Senate, Bill Frist, has grabbed the spotlight. Frist has joined evangelical Christian conservatives who are charging that Democrats who oppose President Bush's judicial nominees are "against people of faith."

For Frist to suggest that honest differences over policy issues are proof of a religious bias in Democrats is even more scary than it is smarmy. Will every political difference now open opponents to such accusations? And whose definition of "faith" is in use here?

While the US population was once overwhelmingly Christian, it is now more diverse. And even when the Christian majority was huge, the Founders wisely acted to ensure that there would never be a Christian government.

Frist now seems determined to join DeLay in leading the Republican evangelical Christians against the rest of the world.
American Christians will have to decide for themselves whether they feel represented by this crusade. But a great many Americans, including many Christians of both parties, believe that faith is and should be a personal matter. If Frist has any evidence that Democrats are opposing judicial nominees just because of those nominees' personal religious beliefs, let him bring it forward.

Failing that, he should concede that fouling a genuine ideological debate with charges of religious bigotry is nothing more than a smear campaign. He should withdraw from participation in "Justice Sunday.".

There are those who believe that the Republican strategy will fail. One of them is former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole:

GOP's Filibuster Strategy Could Backfire

It has been a long time since filibusters were conducted by senators who spoke hour after hour in the full Senate. One masterful practitioner was the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., now sharply denounces Republican tactics to limit filibusters, even likening the tactics to those used by Adolf Hitler in his rise to power. But when he was majority leader in 1977, Byrd joined forces with then-Vice President Walter Mondale in crushing a filibuster by two members of his own party -- Sens. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, and James Abourezk, D-S.D. -- on a proposal to deregulate natural gas prices.

With Mondale presiding, Byrd manipulated Senate rules to force hundreds of pending amendments -- filed as a delaying tactic -- to be ruled out of order. Byrd later won adoption of a rule change barring such "filibusters by amendment."

In 1917, the Senate adopted a rule to cut off filibusters with a two-thirds vote of the chamber. The 67 vote requirement was reduced to the current 60 votes in 1975.

A looming power play by Senate Republican leaders to clamp down on filibusters against judicial nominees is a high-risk strategy. It could change the balance of power in the Senate, erode the rights of the minority party and backfire against Republicans in the long term.

The Senate is "not always going to be Republican," former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential candidate, is reminding fellow Republicans. "Think down the road," he advises.

Dole is one of several former Senate majority leaders who have counseled a go-slow approach on the brink of a parliamentary war over Democratic filibusters -- delaying tactics -- against President Bush's judicial nominees.

Bob Dole - a legitimate war hero unlike all the neo-conmen pushing this major rule change - is merely performing the duty of a True Conservative - ensuring that a major change receives all due attention before it is implemented, provided that the majority decides that implementation is warranted. Some do not:

Groups oppose filibuster ban
Leaders urge GOP to abandon effort.

Two groups normally allied with Republicans have bolted from the party effort to ban judicial filibusters - the first major defections from a conservative push to prevent Senate Democrats from blocking President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

The National Right to Work Committee, a 2.2 million-member group critical of unions, and the Gun Owners of America, with 300,000 members, say they fear that eliminating judicial filibusters could eventually lead to doing away with filibusters altogether.

Both groups have benefited in the past from use of the Senate parliamentary tactic to block gun control and labor bills.
National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix said in a letter last month to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., that the filibuster "has been and remains a vital safety net" for his group.

"If a bare majority of senators vote now to eliminate judicial filibusters, legislative filibusters will not stand for long," Mix wrote. "We would be extremely foolhardy to stand by while anyone, regardless of how good their intentions, proceeds to tear holes in it."

Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, said filibusters such as the one performed by Jimmy Stewart in the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are worth protecting. "We think it's kind of nice to have these traditions that have protected good guys and bad guys," he said.

Pratt said his gun owners are getting a good response from conservatives for the idea of not tampering with filibuster rules. He added that he believes Frist has no more than 45 of the 50 Senate votes he needs on his side. "A lot of people assume that if the Republicans are for it, it must be OK," Pratt said.

But then if someone says, 'Well, they're making a big mistake, and here's why', then you'll find out that the support is a mile wide but closer to an inch deep."

Considering that, the Moonie Press - as represented by The Washington Times - tends to be leaning toward agreement that there is a mistake pending:

Analysis: Partisanship run amok

Partisanship promises to be the defining issue of Congress this year, which has the potential to be the most divisive in years. With the U.S. Senate moving toward a possible near shut down over President Bush's judicial nominees and the House of Representatives functioning without a working ethics committee, the political divisions in the Congress seen in the wake of the November elections have taken on a life of their own.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is expected to enact the GOP's so-called nuclear option in the coming weeks after a series of test votes on nominations previously blocked by Democrats over the last two years that Bush has re-nominated for the federal bench. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised to shut down the body for all but the most pressing of matters. But leading a shutdown of congressional action has hurt lawmakers in the past.

GOP leaders shut down the U.S. government during the Clinton administration over budget issues and were hurt by it politically. Everyday citizens who couldn't get into federal park or access federal services during the period because of the move were affected.

Democrats have smartly vowed to keep budget matters moving along and just disrupt the GOP agenda. Nevertheless, it is too early to tell whether the partisan bickering will shut down the body or just wound it. At the same time, it is unclear whether the parties will simply wound each other or inflict substantial harm, much less if all but the most devout voters will care either way.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in early April of 1,002 adults nationwide found those polled nearly evenly split on the issue of whether the Bush administration and the GOP Congress are handling their power well and allowing full and fair debate with Democrats.

In addition, the poll found about an even split on the question of whether the Senate should maintain the ability to filibuster judicial nominees. Fifty percent of those polled said they were for maintaining the filibuster and 40 percent for eliminating it, with 10 percent undecided.

However, a Newsweek poll in March found a near even split on the issue of whether Senate Democrats should slow down or stop all but the most essential legislative action in the body if the GOP ends the judicial filibuster. Forty-six percent of those polled said they disapproved of the move, and 40 percent said they approved of it with 14 percent indicating they were unsure. Although 72 percent of Republicans in the poll disapproved of the move, 65 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Independents approved of shutting down the body to protest such a rule change.

The Democratic leadership should find some comfort in the fact that the NBC/Journal poll found 63 percent of those polled believed it was the responsibility of Democrats to balance the GOP control to ensure "that President Bush and the Republicans do not go too far in pushing their agenda."

In the end, neither side may win much, but both are facing potentially significant political pain both in terms of legislative action and with voters. What is to be gained by all of this beyond the protection of political turf or the pleasing of either party's base remains to be seen.

As I've written in other posts today, the American voter needs to be paying attention to the greater issues facing this nation. This is certainly one of them. Will the American voter rise to the challenge as has been the historical precedent, or have we abandoned our nation to the non-tender mercies of the special interests from the political extremes?

Time will tell. See you at the finish line.

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