Cheney Jumps Into Filibuster Fray

Vice President Dick Cheney addresses an audience of business leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Monday, March 29, 2004. Cheney asserted that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry would sweep away a host of Bush administration-sponsored tax cuts if elected. AP

Vice President Dick Cheney warned Democrats Friday that he will cast the tie-breaking vote to ban filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees if the Senate deadlocks on the question.

Republicans are moving the Senate toward a final confrontation with Democrats over judicial nominations. Internal GOP polling shows that most Americans don't support Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's plan to ban judicial filibusters — a tactic in which opponents can prevent a vote on a nomination with just 41 votes in the 100-member Senate.

"There is no justification for allowing the blocking of nominees who are well qualified and broadly supported," Cheney told the Republican National Lawyers Association. "The tactics of the last few years, I believe, are inexcusable."

"Let me emphasize, the decision about how to proceed will be made by the Republican leadership in the Senate," Cheney said. "But if the Senate majority decides to move forward and if the issue is presented to me in my elected office as president of the Senate and presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an up or down vote."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the White House "has stepped over the line by interfering with the Senate to reduce checks and balances."

"The White House has always wanted to reduce the Senate's power and the fact that Vice President Cheney is encouraging this abuse of power should strengthen the Senate's resolve to resist," Schumer said.

Now that Texas judge Priscilla Owen and California judge Janice Rogers Brown have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Frist has two nominees to push forward in a battle that conservatives hope their allies will rally around.

"We have now the vehicle. We have two qualified women. They have met every test," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

An internal Republican poll showed that Frist's plan to ban judicial filibusters might not be as popular as they had hoped.

Frist, strongly backed by conservatives in and out of the Senate, has threatened to employ a parliamentary tactic — requiring only a majority vote — to change Senate practices on judicial filibusters. Republicans hold 55 seats in the 100-member Senate, and Cheney would be available to break a tie if necessary.

Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada commands a solid block of 45 votes against the proposal, and Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island have publicly stated their opposition as well. A few GOP lawmakers are uncommitted, and Reid said this week that if Frist calls a vote, "it's going to be very close."

GOP polling shows 37 percent support for the GOP plan to deny Democrats the ability to filibuster judicial nominees, while 51 percent oppose, officials said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
  • Joel Roberts

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