Frist eager to go all in on judges

Gearing up for a vote on the judicial filibuster, the Senate Majority Leader gets some special treatment from the New York Times.

By Eric Boehlert
Published May 11, 2005 11:05AM (EDT)

Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is itching to go all in -- force a showdown over a handful of stalled judicial nominees, play the nuclear option and eliminate the filibuster. After some D.C. chatter last week that Frist was rethinking the radical strategy (a Washington Post/ABC poll showed it's a loser with most voters), Frist, waving off talk of a compromise, announced the showdown is all but certain for next week, and that Texas Supreme court justice Priscilla Owen will likely serve as the nominee who will set the confrontation in motion.

"We need to turn to 100 United States senators and move to the issue surrounding judges," Dr. Frist told reporters on Capitol Hill. "It is just wrong that we do not allow her, after four years, that courtesy of an up-or-down vote," Frist told reporters. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., shot back, ''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.''

Indeed, it's still unclear if Frist has the votes to push the nuclear option through as a handful of the Senate's 55 Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have already peeled away from the party over the nuclear option. According to the Associated Press, "McCain told fellow GOP senators at their closed-door weekly lunch that he believes Democrats will agree to a deal allowing confirmation votes on nearly all of the seven judicial candidates they blocked during Bush's first term. Democrats want their right to filibuster judicial appointees as part of any compromise."

As today's Christian Science Monitor notes, "Bill Frist is heading into defining days for his leadership of the US Senate -- and future in politics -- as he decides when, and if, to pull the trigger on the so-called 'nuclear option' on judicial nominees."

Of course, how the showdown is portrayed in the press will be crucial to determining the political winner over filibusters. With that in mind, the GOP has to be happy with today's New York Times' take on the news. The paper's headline "Democrats Reject a Compromise on Judicial Nominees," clearly casts the Democrats as the obstructionists, even though the compromise the Times trumpeted as being rejected was actually floated by Republicans -- and dismissed by Democrats as meaningless -- last month. (It apparently became the subject of the headline because yesterday Reid "formally" rejected it in a letter to Frist.) And while the Times quotes Frist high up in the story saying it's wrong not to have up-or-down votes in the Senate, the Times waits ten paragraphs before referencing the fact that dozens of President Clinton's judicial picks were denied that very courtesy.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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