Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid had been quietly talking with Frist about confirming at least two of Mr. Bush's blocked nominees from Michigan in exchange for withdrawing a third nominee. This would have been part of a compromise that would have the GOP back away from a showdown over changing Senate rules to prevent Democrats from using the filibuster to block Mr. Bush's nominees.
But Frist, in a rare news conference conducted on the Senate floor, said he would not accept any deal that keeps his Republican majority from confirming judicial nominees that have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Are we going to step back from that principle? The answer to that is no," Frist said.
That means he and Reid are still at deadlock, because Democrats have said they would not accept any deals that would permanently ban them from blocking Mr. Bush's nominees to the Supreme Court or the federal appellate courts, the top two tiers of the judicial system.
"As part of any resolution, the nuclear option must be off the table," said Reid, referring to the GOP threat to change the filibuster rules.
Frist and Reid both acknowledged that they are constantly negotiating, trying to find a solution where the Senate does not have a showdown over whether Republicans will change the parliamentary rules to ban judicial filibusters.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Sunday there had been a "a lot of negotiations to try to get three judges from Michigan" confirmed. Other senators have referred vaguely in recent days to discussions surrounding Mr. Bush's nominations to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Michigan.
That proposed deal, officials speaking on condition of anonymity said, would include allowing the confirmation of Richard Griffin and David McKeague, both of whom Mr. Bush has twice nominated for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. At the same time, Reid wants the nomination of Henry Saad scuttled. Democrats succeeded in blocking all three men from coming to a vote in 2004 in a struggle that turned on issues of senatorial prerogatives as well as ideology.