When Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel appeared on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, he wondered whether there weren't a few "moderately intelligent" senators who could come up with a way to avert the nuclear option.
Maybe there are. While the hard-core partisans on each side continue to fan the flames over the filibuster -- in a radio appearance today with Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins, James Dobson said that the ground in Washington "is almost too hot to walk on" and that "bullets are flying overhead" -- a dozen senators in the middle are close to a compromise on Bush's judicial nominees, Roll Call reports.
If the deal comes together, a handful of senators from each party would sign a letter of understanding on judicial nominees. The Republican signatories would agree to vote against the nuclear option; the Democrats would agree to allow floor votes on four of the seven stalled judicial nominees and to vote in favor of cloture for all future Bush judicial nominees -- including Supreme Court picks -- except in "extreme circumstances."
It's not unlike an offer Harry Reid made and Bill Frist rejected a couple of weeks ago. But the senators working on the deal -- a group that apparently includes Trent Lott, Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor -- don't need Reid or Frist to get something done. With the vote count on both the nuclear option and the filibusters themselves so close, a handful of defectors from either side could undercut whatever power their party's leaders have, and the nuclear option could disappear without an explosion.