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It's All Up- or Downhill From Here

"To give consent, we may vote. But to deny consent doesn't require a vote," said Sen. Robert Byrd, occasionally using the Bible to bolster his argument. (By Kevin Lamarque -- Reuters)

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By Dan Balz
Sunday, May 15, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were having one of their many colloquies about judicial nominations when Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), a Bible and a copy of the Constitution in hand, suddenly intervened.

For the next hour, Byrd commanded center stage on the Senate floor, with pointed questions, extended ramblings and theatrical flourishes that had both leaders squirming and the galleries mesmerized.

With Frist poised to invoke what has become known as the "nuclear option" -- a rules change to prohibit filibusters on judicial nominees -- Byrd pleaded for compromise. Waving the Constitution, he said to Frist, "Does it say that each nominee shall have an up-or-down vote? Does it say that?"

Quietly, Frist responded, "The answer is no, the language is not there." But he then defended the principle of giving President Bush's nominees that opportunity. To which Byrd responded, "To give consent, we may vote. But to deny consent doesn't require a vote."

Frist briefly gained the upper hand when he recalled that Byrd had told Bush earlier in the week he was willing to give nominees an up-or-down vote, and the two sparred over exactly what the former Senate leader had said. "I don't remember," Byrd said. "I'm willing to have some up-or-down votes."

Byrd delivered a history on Senate rules, recited a story from Tolstoy and invoked the Book of Esther from the Bible to warn Frist that, like Haman, he and the Republicans could end up being hanged on their own gallows if they pursue the nuclear option. "Don't 'Hamanize' the Senate of the United States."

Frist kept looking for an exit and finally took his leave, prompting Byrd to wail theatrically, "He left me all alone here. What about this? Hey, where is my adversary? Where is my worthy adversary?"

All Is Forgiven

When congressional leaders trooped down to the White House last week for a briefing on President Bush's trip to Russia and other countries, there was a somewhat awkward side meeting between the president and Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader.

A few days earlier, just about the time Air Force One was landing with the presidential party in Latvia, Reid, in a conversation with students in Nevada, branded Bush "a loser." Reid instantly apologized for his comment, but Wednesday marked the first time he was in the president's company since the incident.

A still-contrite Reid told Bush, "I guess I've given you a pretty hard time," according to one reconstruction of events. "Don't worry," the president reportedly responded, throwing his arm around Reid.

Reid reported to friends on Capitol Hill that he thought the president was "a really nice guy." Whether he thinks the president is a winner is another question.

Showdown in the Making

In Texas, the state legislature is nearing the end of its biennial session and soon after that will come the answer to the question that could turn Texas politics upside down: whether Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) will challenge Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2006.


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