Senators Defuse Filibuster Feud

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., shakes hands with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., outside Frist's office in the U.S. Capitol in Washington Monday, May 23, 2005. In a dramatic reach across party lines, Senate centrists agreed on a compromise that clears the way for confirmation of many of President George W. Bush's stalled judicial nominees, leaves others in limbo and preserves venerable filibuster rules. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
AP
In a dramatic reach across party lines, Senate centrists sealed a compromise Monday night to clear the way for confirmation of many of President Bush's stalled judicial nominees, leave others in limbo and preserve venerable filibuster rules.

"In a Senate that has become increasingly partisan and polarized, the bipartisan center held," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., one of 14 senators seven from each party - to pledge their "mutual trust and confidence" on the deal.

"The Senate is back in business," exulted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., reflecting the view that a showdown would have had a long-term detrimental impact on Congress' ability to conduct the nation's business.

It was that kind of language from both sides that signaled the depth of relief that a deal had been struck, reports CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras.

CBS News National Political Correspondent Gloria Borger reports that the agreement is extraordinary because the senators did this on their own outside their leadership and special interest groups.

"I think everyone would probably say the Senate wins here," said Borger. "These 14 senators are not only moderates, some of them are quite conservative politically. But they were all traditionalists and they believe they had to preserve the right to filibuster."

Under the terms, Democrats agreed to allow final confirmation votes for Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor, named to appeals court seats. There is "no commitment to vote for or against" the filibuster against two other conservatives named to the appeals court, Henry Saad and William Myers.

The two-page agreement came after Democrats had cots ceremonially delivered to the capitol in anticipation of an overnight debate, reports Assuras.

The agreement said future judicial nominees should "only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances," with each Democratic senator holding the discretion to decide when those conditions had been met.

Borger notes that it's significant that the senators did not define exactly what "extraordinary circumstances" means, because it shows how the agreement is based on the trust between the senators.

"In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement," Republicans said they would oppose any attempt to make changes in the application of filibuster rules.

While the agreement was signed by only 14 senators, they held the balance of power in a sharply divided Senate.

And Republicans said they would seek to confirm Owen as early as Tuesday, with other cleared nominees to follow quickly.

Even so, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., noted he had not been a party to the deal, which fell short of his stated goal of winning yes-or-no votes on each of Mr. Bush's nominees. "It has some good news and it has some disappointing news and it will require careful monitoring," he said.

Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada seemed more receptive — although he hastened to say he remains opposed to some of the nominees who will now likely take seats on federal appeals courts.

"Checks and balances have been protected. The integrity of the Supreme Court has been protected from the undue influence of the vocal, radical right wing," Reid said.