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Leaders Say No Deal On Judges

Top Senate leaders have given up on their efforts to compromise over President Bush's stalled judicial nominees, but other members continued to work on a possible deal to clear five blocked appeals court appointees and end threats to change long-standing filibuster rules.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Tuesday his negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist failed because he refused to give up Democrats' ability to block Supreme Court and lower court nominees they consider too extreme. Court watchers think a Supreme Court vacancy could happen sometime this year.

"The goal of the Republican leadership and their allies in the White House is to pave the way for a Supreme Court nominee who would only need 50 votes for confirmation rather than 60," the number of senators needed to maintain a filibuster blocking a confirmation vote, Reid said.

Frist, for his part, insists that all of the White House's court appointments deserve confirmation votes from the Republican-controlled Senate.

"We both agreed that after several months of discussions, we have been unable to come to a negotiated position where the president's nominees get an up-or-down vote," Frist said.

The issue will likely come to a head in the next few days when Frist pushes for a vote on the nomination of either Priscilla Owen or Janice Rogers Brown, both of whom met Tuesday with President Bush.

That meeting took place as White House spokesman Scott McClellan stepped up criticism of those blocking their nominations in the Senate, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.

"The role of the Senate is to provide their advice and consent," McClellan said. "It's not to provide advice and block."

He said that by filibustering some nominees, Senate Democrats have taken their opposition to an "unprecedented level."

"This whole showdown is a symptom of the bitterness and partisanship that prevails here in Washington," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday on CBS News' The Early Show. He said there "should be a compromise out there that allows votes on most of the judges."Democrats prevented final votes on 10 of Mr. Bush's first-term appeals court nominees, and have threatened to do the same this year to seven the president renominated. Frist has threatened to strip them of their ability to do so by blocking use of the filibuster, a parliamentary device that can be overcome only by a majority of 60 votes or higher, to block confirmation votes.

Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate and can afford five defections and still prevail on the strength of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote. So far, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island have announced they will break ranks, and many vote-counters say they expect Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine to vote with the Democrats.

Democrats also are particularly optimistic that Sen. John Warner of Virginia will side with them, and they continue to court enough wavering Republicans to tip the balance. They include Susan Collins of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Neither side appears certain it has enough votes to win if the issue is put to a vote. At the same time, if six Republicans and six Democrats agree to a compromise of their own, they could impose it on the leadership if necessary, averting a showdown.

Even as Frist and Reid gave up efforts to reach a compromise, a small group of Democrats, who have been meeting with Republicans also eager to avoid a showdown, floated a proposal to clear the way for confirmation of some of Mr. Bush's blocked appointees.

Under the proposal, circulated in writing, Republicans would have to pledge no change through 2006 in the Senate's rules that allow filibusters against judicial nominees. For their part, Democrats would commit not to block votes on Mr. Bush's Supreme Court or appeals court nominees during the same period, except in extreme circumstances.

Each member would be free to determine what constituted an extreme circumstance, but Republicans would bind themselves to not changing the filibuster rule for the next two years.

Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Democrats involved in the compromise would vote to end any filibuster blocking a final vote on Richard Griffin, David McKeague and Susan Neilson, all named to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Democrats would also clear the way for final votes on Janice Rogers Brown for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and William H. Pryor Jr. for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Both are among the nominees most strongly opposed by organized labor as well as civil rights and abortion rights groups and others that provide political support for the Democratic Party.

Three other nominations would continue to be blocked under the offer: those of Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit, Henry Saad to the 6th Circuit Court and William G. Myers III to the 9th Circuit.

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