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Publish Date: 5/21/2005

Colorado senators set for the fight
Filibuster showdown takes place Tuesday<


WASHINGTON — They’re still talking in the U.S. Senate, for at least one more day.

Colorado’s senators spent much of the week working behind the scenes on the fight over the filibuster, an issue that dominated the Senate all last week and probably will again next week, when Republicans plan to do away with unlimited debate over President Bush’s judicial nominees.

The plan rankles Democrats so much that they call it the “nuclear option.” The final showdown is scheduled for Tuesday.

Sen. Wayne Allard serves as the Republicans’ deputy whip, which requires him to convince Republicans to vote with their leaders.

“He’s been pretty actively involved. He met with the judge nominees this week,” said Angela de Rocha, Allard’s spokeswoman.

Democrat Ken Salazar is one of 12 to 14 moderate Senate Democrats and Republicans who are trying to reach a compromise before Tuesday.

“He’s been very, very involved. From Tuesday on, he was in meetings all hours of the day,” said Cody Wertz, Salazar’s spokesman.

Salazar returned to Colorado on Friday, but he remained in contact by phone with the moderates, Wertz said. Salazar also introduced four energy-related measures this week, Wertz noted.

Last week, Salazar offered to give yes-or-no votes to all eight of the disputed judge nominees if Republicans would promise not to use the nuclear option during this Congress. As of Friday, however, the group hadn’t reached an agreement.

“(Allard) thinks people are entitled to an up-or-down vote on the nomination. There’s very little wiggle room in that,” de Rocha said.

Democratic leader Harry Reid has threatened to use the Senate’s rules to bring most business to a crawl if Republican leader Bill Frist goes through with the nuclear option.

Allard and the Republicans got a preview of the tactics when Democrats invoked the obscure “two-hour rule,” which bans committee meetings when the Senate has been in session for more than two hours.

A Thursday hearing on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was one of the casualties. Allard is the lead sponsor of the amendment in the Senate. De Rocha said she hadn’t spoken to Allard about the cancellation of that hearing.

Technically, this debate is over Priscilla Owen, a conservative Texas judge who Bush nominated to serve on a federal appeals court. But in the background, senators of both parties are thinking about the seat on the Supreme Court that may come open soon. Chief Justice William Rehnquist is battling cancer.

The debate over Owen is notable for its length: three days, with another marathon predicted for Monday.

Texas Republican John Cornyn said the debate over Owen had raged longer than the debates for any of the Supreme Court justices.

Neither Coloradan participated in the floor debates last week, but Allard plans to make a speech Monday. Salazar has not announced his plans.

Cornyn lit the fuse on the nuclear option Friday afternoon in an almost-empty Senate chamber. After Reid entered the room, Cornyn asked for 10 more hours of debate on Owen, and then a vote.

Reid objected.

Cornyn then offered 15 more hours of debate.

Reid objected again.

Cornyn then filed a cloture motion, a petition asking for debate to end Monday. Eighteen Republicans signed it, including Allard.

It takes 60 votes to pass a cloture motion, so if all Senate Democrats vote against it Tuesday, Frist can then carry out the nuclear option by asking for a ruling that the Senate doesn’t allow filibusters on judicial nominees.

With that, the script was set for next week.

Reid and Cornyn walked away from their podiums, and the lights went dim in the Senate chamber.

 

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