Those are fighting words

While centrists try to avoid a filibuster showdown, Frist and Reid don't sound ready to compromise.

Published May 18, 2005 3:17PM (EDT)

The Senate has just begun debating George W. Bush's nomination of Priscilla Owen to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit -- a debate that could lead to the nuclear option. Centrists are working nearly 'round the clock on a compromise plan, and Democrats appear to feel increasingly bullish about their ability to reach a deal.

But the leaders of the two parties aren't moving yet, a fact underscored by the tenor of their statements on the Senate floor this morning. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the Republicans' push for the nuclear option is part of a "disturbing pattern" of GOP "arrogance." In the process, he sarcastically referred to Vice President Dick Cheney -- who could provide the tie-breaking vote on the nuclear option -- as a "paragon of virtue."

Not to be outdone, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist -- in a rambling, nondenial denial to the question whether he himself once voted in support of a filibuster of one of Bill Clinton's judicial nominees -- said that Democrats are using the filibuster to "to kill, to defeat, to assassinate" judicial nominees.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin just took the Senate floor to call Frist on his comments. Although Durbin said that he was confident that Frist's comments did not "reflect his heart," he said senators should be more careful about the words they use in the debate over judges. As Durbin noted, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard this morning from Joan Lefkow, the federal judge whose family members were murdered earlier this year.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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