Fourteen Senators Reach Deal on Filibuster

By William Branigin and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 23, 2005; 9:05 PM

Fourteen Republican and Democratic senators announced this evening they had reached a compromise designed to prevent a showdown over President Bush's judicial nominations.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking for the group of seven Republicans and seven Democrats, announced the agreement at a news conference at 7:40 p.m.

Under the deal, the Democrats agreed to accept cloture votes, and thus up-or-down ballots, on three of President Bush's judicial nominees: Priscilla R. Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William H. Pryor Jr. They also agreed that filibusters should be used to block Senate action on nominees only "under extraordinary circumstances."

In return, the Republicans pledged not to support the so-called "nuclear option" to end the ability of the minority to use filibusters.

The group of senators, including Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, said the Senate leadership had signaled it would go along with the compromise.

McCain said the agreement would avert a Senate crisis and "pull the institution back from a precipice." He said the alternative would have caused lasting damage to the Senate.

McCain said the 14 senators pledged to vote to cut off debate on the nominations of Brown, Owen and Pryor to seats on U.S. courts of appeal. That would allow the nominees, who had previously been blocked by Democratic filibuster threats, to receive votes on the Senate floor and be confirmed by simple majorities.

The 14 made no such commitment in the cases of two other conservative judicial nominees, William G. Myers III and Henry Saad. McCain said the senators in the group could vote for or against cutting off debate on their nominations.

But the two-page agreement, signed by the 14 senators, also said that "nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist."

Because of the makeup of the Senate -- 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one independent -- the 14 represent a decisive voting bloc.

McCain added, "We will try to do everything in our power to prevent filibusters in the future." The accord was "in the finest traditions of the Senate: trust, respect and mutual desire to see the institution of the Senate function in ways that protect the rights of the minority," he said. "I believe that goodwill will prevail."

The Senate minority leader, Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), welcomed the agreement and hailed it as a victory for "reason" and "responsibility." But he also used some harsher, partisan language, saying that "abuse of power" by the White House and Republican lawmakers would no longer be tolerated.

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