On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona was urging the Senate's GOP majority to cut a deal with Democrats.
Republican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that McCain told fellow GOP senators at their closed-door weekly lunch that he believes Democrats will agree to a deal allowing confirmation votes on nearly all of the seven judicial candidates they blocked during Mr. Bush's first term. Democrats want their right to filibuster judicial appointees as part of any compromise.
McCain said Republicans should trust assurances from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., regarding Supreme Court appointments. Privately, Reid has told Republicans he will not filibuster any Supreme Court nominees, except in extreme circumstances, according to officials familiar with the conversations.
Some Republicans claim Reid has offered to make sure that even if there is a filibuster against a high court nominee, it will fail. His aides vehemently deny he has made such a proposal.
Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was also floating a plan in which senators would pledge to use filibusters only in "extreme or extraordinary cases."
Nelson told the Washington Post in an interview that his proposal would allow for the confirmation of some or all of the president's controversial nominees. He said the biggest challenge he faced was crafting a compromise "without undermining the leaders in both caucuses."
Frist, R-Tenn., was pushing ahead with Mr. Bush's seven filibustered court nominations and trying to end the Democratic blockade on them. "We need to look to the 100 United States senators and see what their will is," Frist told reporters.
Reid, who needs Republican help if he wants to preserve his minority's ability to block judicial nominees from the White House, sounded like he isn't worried about the showdown ahead if Frist doesn't accept a deal with Democrats. He proposed two compromises that he says offer "a path away from the precipice."
"But if neither of these options are acceptable, let's vote," Reid said defiantly.