3:00 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 13. The Democratic filibuster against President Bush's judicial nominees continues. With the United States population sound asleep, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) begins to read from Robert A. Caro's "Master of the Senate," a biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson. "It's 1,040 pages," he announces. "I assure you, I'm not going to read all thousand pages."
By Friday morning, the debate was over. Democrats had won. Republicans had been unable to reach cloture. The Democratic filibusters against Charles Pickering, William H. Pryor Jr., Priscilla Owen, Miguel Estrada, Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown continued. President Bush's nominees remained stuck in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) stated that ongoing filibusters could not be tolerated. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the radio program "Concerned Women Today" that he would file a lawsuit with the Supreme Court alleging unconstitutional conduct by the Democrats. "This process is going to destroy the constitutional system of appointing judges," Graham said. "It's going to drive good men and women away from wanting to serve."
Republicans have the right to be frustrated. But mainly, they should be frustrated with themselves. Majority Leader Frist bungled this filibuster. A serious issue became a joke from beginning to end. Unwilling to risk a real, hard-nosed filibuster fight and unable to risk a judicial scorched-earth policy, the Senate Republicans look incompetent, petty and weak.
By scheduling a filibuster, Republicans looked like the political aggressors. They were "forcing" Democrats to put Senate business aside at the behest of radical right-wingers. And Frist's 30-hour limit on debate meant from the beginning that Democrats knew the end was in sight. In military occupation, telegraphing a pullout date provides ammunition for the enemy. In Senate debate, the same principle applies.
The Washington Post quickly labeled the 40-hour debate an "anti-filibuster filibuster" -- essentially accusing Republicans of holding up the business of the American people. Pictures of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) with a sign blaring "I'll be home watching 'The Bachelor'" splashed across the mass media. Senate Democrats handed out a mock children's book titled "Republican Senators and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Night" during the debate.
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