Here's the article from this morning's CongressDailyAM (subscription only, sorry no link):
Frist To Go 'Nuclear' On Nominations
By John Stanton
Senate Majority Leader Frist today is expected to give his blessing to a GOP plan to dramatically change the Senate's voting rules -- effectively eliminating Democrats' ability to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees, aides said Tuesday.
Democratic leadership sources warned that a move to reduce from 60 to 51 the number of votes needed to end a filibuster of judicial nominees would be considered a declaration of war by most Democrats, could further weaken the position of the chamber's shrinking population of moderates and almost certainly would create new obstacles for the GOP's agenda.
During a closed-door meeting of the GOP Conference today, Frist will inform his colleagues that while the so-called "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules will be reserved as a last resort, Republicans will no longer tolerate Democratic efforts to block Bush's nominees to the federal bench, an aide to Frist confirmed.
According to this source, no immediate action on changing the rules is planned. Frist will wait for the next floor debate on a contested Bush appointee.
During that process, he will attempt to negotiate with Democrats and pursue any and all options to break the deadlock. Assuming those overtures fail, Frist would then ask the presiding officer of the Senate to rule on the 60-vote requirement.
The presiding officer would then find that only a 51-vote majority is needed to end a filibuster in the case of judicial nominees -- a finding to which Democrats would almost certainly object, forcing a vote on whether to overturn the ruling of the chair.
But because Frist would only need 51 votes from his new 55 vote-majority to protect the decision, the majority leader believes he would have enough support within his Conference to impose the change.
Although Frist came to his decision in an effort to speed the approval process of Bush's nominees, Democratic sources warned pursuing a rule change would almost certainly poison the already bitter atmosphere in the Senate and undermine the efforts of moderates in both parties to reduce tensions in the chamber.
A bipartisan group of moderate lawmakers Tuesday held the first post-election meeting of the "Centrist Coalition" headed up by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. The group announced that Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., will serve as co-chairmen.
The group's aim, according to Snowe, is to "help break the impasse on issues" moderates in both parties can agree are important to the nation as a whole. Lieberman told reporters, "What drives us together is the feeling that Congress has become too partisan."
But use of the nuclear option on judges could kill those efforts before they ever begin. One source close to Democratic moderates warned, "If Frist starts playing games like this, you're going to see more and more of us say, 'Well, [forget] him.'"
A Democratic leadership source agreed, predicting a change to the rules might galvanize Senate Democrats of all stripes while emboldening progressive elements within the party to become more aggressive in their opposition to the GOP.
"Can you imagine what a guy like [Sen. Tom] Harkin will do?" the leadership source asked of the populist Democrat from Iowa.
Stuff like this only adds to the feeling of impotent rage I've been feeling lately. I have to wonder what will happen if the Republicans choose to go down this road.
Might this be the end of the road for Chafee? What about Snowe and Collins? Voinovich? Smith of OR? Does Frist really have the votes to change this rule?
I would be curious to hear from the parlimentarians out there on possible dodges on the vote on rule change. I seem to recall that efforts to change the rules on filibusters during the civil rights era failed because the debate on the rule change was itself subject to filibuster.