Pardon me while I wipe the egg off my face. Last week I was one of only a handful of conservatives praising the Senate compromise on judicial nominees, which preserved the filibuster while guaranteeing several of President Bush's most conservative nominees an up-or-down vote. I argued that Democrats would be chastened into using the filibuster judiciously -- only "under extraordinary circumstances" in the words of the compromise itself. Boy was I wrong. In less than a week, the Democrats were back to their old tricks, this time filibustering the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador.
I know "the deal," as it's come to be known, did not formally bind Democrats to forgoing all future filibusters on judicial nominees, much less other executive appointments. But the spirit of the compromise was to render the filibuster the exception, not the rule, in dealing with Bush nominees. And even if all Democrats were not bound by it, the signatories certainly had some obligation to abide by its spirit. Yet, by week's end, only three of the seven Democrats who signed onto the compromise were willing to invoke cloture on the Bolton nomination, which would have allowed the nominee to be confirmed or rejected by the full Senate.
Democrat Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.) -- all of whom promised that only "extraordinary circumstances" would justify a filibuster -- nonetheless voted against ending debate on Bolton. Three other Democrat signatories and all seven Republicans who forged the compromise supported allowing the nomination to move to a vote. One Democrat signer, Sen. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), and one moderate Republican who was not part of the compromise group, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), did not cast votes on the cloture motion. So, Bolton's nomination remains in limbo.
Key Democrats claim they are only using the threatened filibuster to force the administration to turn over classified documents. They want to know why, as undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton sought the identity of some American citizens whose names were blocked out in certain intelligence intercepts and are hoping the documents themselves might reveal a motive. But the chairman and the ranking Democrat of the Senate Intelligence Committee have seen the documents in question and say there is nothing unusual or incriminating about them -- which suggests that the stalling technique is simply more partisan gamesmanship.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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