Thursday, May 05, 2005

Blinded by the Right
Blinded by the Right

New York Times columnist David Brooks has some explaining to do. In his Sunday column, Brooks dropped a major bombshell in the ongoing fight over the "nuclear option"--Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's effort to ban the filibuster of all judicial nominees. Brooks wrote that he was "reliably informed" that Frist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid made a secret deal last week, with Reid vowing "to prevent a filibuster on the next Supreme Court nominee. Reid said that if liberals tried to filibuster President Bush's pick, he'd come up with five or six Democratic votes to help Republicans close off debate. In other words, barring a scandal or some other exceptional circumstance, Reid would enable Bush's nominee to get a vote and probably be confirmed." Moreover, "Reid couldn't put this offer in writing because it would outrage liberal interest groups."

Unfortunately for Brooks, his "reliable source" was wrong.

Sources close to Reid, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, say that Reid never made, or offered to make, any kind of commitment to prevent a filibuster on an eventual Supreme Court nominee. The New York Times never ran a follow-up on Brooks' supposed scoop, nor did any other major paper. "I don't know what the GOP are saying to save themselves," one source said.

Ten days ago, Reid did attempt to defuse the crisis by offering a vote on four of the ten appellate court nominees blocked by Democrats (out of 215) if Frist dropped the nuclear option. Both the White House and the Senate Majority Leader immediately rejected the proposal. "The process is not well-served by these political games," quipped Karl Rove.

Two days later, however, the Republicans responded with a far less generous "compromise" plan: Frist would allow 100 hours of debate on each appellate court or Supreme Court nominee if Democrats relinquished the filibuster for the first time in Senate history. In a 55-44 Republican-controlled Senate, such an agreement could only delay an eventual conservative confirmation. Reid rightly labeled the ploy, "a big wet kiss to the far right."

It's all or nothing for the Republicans, as Frist pushes for the confirmation of every right-wing judicial nominee in an effort to appease his Christian conservative base. Going nuclear is now a tactical question of timing and whether Republicans have the 50 necessary votes. Frist says the vote will occur before Memorial Day; social conservatives want it to happen after the Senate reconvenes next week. "It would be considered intolerable to delay any further," says Manuel Miranda, a former aide to Frist and chairman of the National Coalition to End the Judicial Filibuster.

Conservative threats aside, the vote count remains uncertain. A GOP aide told the New York Daily News, "I don't think he has the votes. He's now in his own corner. If he doesn't have the votes, he's really screwed."

Frist may already be in trouble, despite his best "Justice Sunday" performance. Republican moderates are wavering. And two-thirds of Americans in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll objected to changing the Senate confirmation rules. Not even David Brooks' misleading reporting can change that fact.