No Panaceas

Friday, July 11, 2003
What I don't get about the current filibusters: Here's another piece about the simmering battle over judicial nominees. Here's the most interesting bit: "Frist tried this week to move the Michigan nominees straight to the full Senate without a committee hearing. Democrats blocked the maneuver." To pull this off Frist needed unanimous consent of the floor. Obviously the Democrats are monitoring floor action to prevent this kind of thing.

The article goes on to talk about the pending Pryor hearings in Judiciary:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to soon tackle another controversial nominee, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, who is up for a seat on Atlanta's 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Democrats and liberal groups strongly oppose Pryor...But Republicans hold a one-seat committee advantage and have used that edge to vote out all of Bush's nominees so far.

Some groups are lobbying Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, hoping he will vote against Pryor. Specter generally supports gay and abortion rights -- both of which Pryor vehemently opposes.

But Specter may have hinted his support for the nominee Wednesday with an apparent slip of the tongue when he talked about discussions of "Judge Pryor." Pryor has never held a judgeship.

He added: "I've never applied a litmus test on a Supreme Court nominee."

The Specter stuff is confusing. The bit about calling Pryor a judge probably is just an easy to make slip of the tongue. But what's with Specter's comments about litmus tests and Supreme Court nominees? Pryor has not been nominated to the Supremes. Is Specter being really coy -- he doesn't apply a litmus test to Supreme Court nominees but he does apply one to lower court nominees -- or is this quote taken out of context? I suspect the latter.

Regardless, given that Specter faces primary opposition in 2004 I have trouble believing he will oppose Pryor. So Pryor escapes Judiciary and will then join Estrada and Owen on the filibuster float.

Which brings me to a question. I have been meaning to bring this up now for quite a few weeks. I've yet to see anyone bring this point up: Why don't the Republicans fight the filibusters the old fashioned way: By going to the mattresses (or, more correctly, the cots)? One of the key ways that the Senate used to fight filibusters was by forcing the filibusterers to hold the floor and keep talking until they give up. Think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Now, if you think about one-senator filibusters -- like Strom Thurmond's 1957 record breaker -- the way to beat the fillibuster is to just make the individual keep talking until exhaustion or biological necessities intervene. (There is a great story about Estes Kefauver that I'll save for another time.) However, the Democrats would play tag-team filibuster, and since they would be working on the Executive calendar (used for confirmations), I don't believe individual senators would be limited to speaking only once. Thus the Democrats could go for weeks and weeks and weeks.

But think about what that would mean? The filibuster would attract intense media and public attention, and I think under these circumstances that eventually the public would turn against the Democrats because the Republicans would keep saying "all we want is a fair vote, isn't that democracy?"

One of the biggest mistakes the Senate ever made was adopting a rules change in the early 1960s that allowed filibustered bills to go into a type of suspended animation -- or onto a different "track" -- so that the Senate could continue business without disruption. This was a mistake because it made the filibuster so painless for everyone. But, I don't believe there is anything preventing the Senate from choosing to fight the filibuster the old way. It would be painful for the senators -- because everyone, not just the filibusterers would have to stay -- but fighting it this way would transform the politics. It seems like a much better idea then the "nuclear option" and the other ideas the Republicans keep talking about.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003
More Blue Slip Wars: It looks like the Republicans are about to ignore a double blue slip rejection (where both senators from a state return negative blue slips.) This is the latest step in the war over 6th Circuit nominees from Michigan. From yesterday's CQ Today Midday Update:

The nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit have been held up by Michigan Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, who remain angry at the way the Senate treated former President Bill Clinton's nominees to the same court. Levin and Stabenow have insisted that some of Clinton's
nominees be given another chance....Both have returned negative "blue slips"...But Senate Republicans are mulling whether to hold Judiciary Committee hearings on the nominees..."I'm sure I'm going to be pushed into holding hearings," Judiciary Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said today.

Update: I took the above from the Midday update. Here's the fuller article at

Monday, July 07, 2003
It takes a lot of luck: Lance Armstrong has won four TdFs in part because he is an extraordinary athlete. But it also takes a lot of luck. In 1999 Alex Zulle was crossing the notorious Passage du Gois -- it's underwater most of the day -- when a group in front of him crashed. He lost six minutes. He ended up finishing second to Armstrong by about seven and a half minutes. Who knows how the dynamics of the race -- especially given the pressure on a then relatively weak U.S. Postal team -- might have changed had Zulle been ahead of the crash rather than behind it. In Saturday's Prologue (a really short individual time trial) David Millar had a chain slip -- which he fixed on the fly -- and just barely came in second. Then yesterday a spectacular crash took down the three top American riders: Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, and Tyler Hamilton. The latter two are done with broken bones. Armstrong is fine. It takes a lot of luck.

UPDATE: He has two fractures in his collarbone but Tyler Hamilton is still in it. I can't imagine that he'll be able to compete for the GC now, but you have to admire his guts.