Two weeks ago, Bill Frist and I exchanged proposals in an attempt to avert a vote on the nuclear option.
One proposal allowed for up or down votes on all but four judges - which many of us on both sides of the aisle considered to be the goal of this hyped battle over judicial nominations.
It also took the "nuclear option" off the table, which even Ken Starr said yesterday was damaging to the Senate as an institution and "amounts to an assault on the judicial branch of government." This compromise would break the gridlock over these seven judges, and allow us to get back to doing the people's business.
Senator Frist's proposal does nothing to end the judicial impasse, as it would wipe away the very checks and balances that have prevented an abuse of power for more than 200 years.
That result is unacceptable.
I still consider this confrontation entirely unnecessary and irresponsible. The White House manufactured this crisis. Since Bush took office, the Senate confirmed 208 of his judicial nominations and turned back only 10, a 95% confirmation rate. Instead of accepting that success and avoiding further divisiveness and partisanship in Washington, the President chose to pick fights instead of judges by resubmitting the names of the rejected nominees.
This fight is not about seven radical nominees; it's about clearing the way for a Supreme Court nominee who only needs 51 votes, instead of 60 votes. They want a Clarence Thomas, not a Sandra Day O'Connor or Anthony Kennedy or David Souter. George Bush wants to turn the Senate into a second House of Representatives, a rubberstamp for his right wing agenda and radical judges. That's not how America works.
I believe there are two options for avoiding the nuclear showdown, which so many of us believe is bad for the Senate, and bad for America.
But I want to be clear: we are prepared for a vote on the nuclear option. Democrats will join responsible Republicans in a vote to uphold the constitutional principle of checks and balances.
If it does come to a vote, I asked Senator Frist to allow his Republican colleagues to follow their consciences. Senator Specter recently said that Senators should be bound by Senate loyalty rather than party loyalty on a question of this magnitude. But right wing activists are threatening primary challenges against Republicans who vote against the nuclear option. Senators should not face this or any other form of retribution based on their support for the Constitution. In return, I pledge that I will place no such pressure on Democratic Senators and I urge Senator Frist to refrain from placing such pressure on Republican Senators.
I also suggest two reasonable ways to avert this constitutional crisis.
First, allow up or down votes on additional nominees, as I addressed in my proposal to Frist two weeks ago. If this is about getting judges on the courts, let's get them on the courts.
Second, allow the Senate to consider changing the rules without breaking the rules. Every one of us knows that there is a right way and a wrong way to change the rules of the Senate; the nuclear option is the wrong way. Senator Dodd will go to the floor this afternoon to expand on the way the Senate changes its rules.
I suggest that Senator Frist introduce his proposal as a resolution. If he does, we commit to moving it through the Rules Committee expeditiously and allow for a vote on the floor. It takes 67 votes to change the rules. If Senator Frist can't achieve 67 votes, then clearly the nuclear option is not in the best interest of the Senate or the nation.
Either of these options offers a path away from the precipice of the nuclear option. But if neither of these options is acceptable to you, let's vote.
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