It's time Republicans learned to play hardball. Democrats don't
really want to filibuster Miguel Estrada's nomination to the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia. They aren't anxious to stay up all
night and give marathon speeches on the dangers Estrada purportedly poses to
the Republic. Tom Daschle needs his beauty rest, after all.
But the Republicans haven't been willing to call the Dems'
bluff. Normally, a filibuster requires a senator to take the floor and keep
it, an arcane privilege that prevents the Senate from voting on the issue at
hand, unless 60 senators vote to cut off debate.
Former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond (then a Democrat)
filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes straight in an attempt to kill the
1957 Civil Rights Act. Former senator William Proxmire (D-WI) talked for 16
hours and 12 minutes on a debt-ceiling bill in 1981, and then-senator
Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY) filibustered a tax bill for 15 hours and 14 minutes
No one seems to have the stomach for a real filibuster today,
Democrats or Republicans. Instead of holding the Democrats' feet to the fire
to force them to keep talking, the GOP leadership allowed senators to go
home for the Presidents' Day recess without voting on Estrada. Now,
Republicans are letting the Democrats drag out the debate day after day,
without forcing obstinate senators to stay on the floor round the clock and
It's understandable that Democrats wouldn't want to talk about
Miguel Estrada hour after hour. They have nothing to say. Estrada is
obviously well qualified for the position, having received the highest
judicial recommendation from the American Bar Association.
His stellar qualifications have earned Estrada a left-handed
compliment from Democrat Sen. Harry Reid (NV), who said, "We don't know
anything about Estrada, other than he's smart."
The Democrats' real complaint is that Estrada hasn't commented
publicly on controversial issues such as abortion and affirmative action.
But is it fair to oppose a nominee on those grounds alone?
Ironically, the Democrats and liberal interest groups launched a
similar attack on a previous Republican judicial nominee, calling him a
"stealth" candidate for his refusal to say how he might vote on abortion
cases. When a Republican-controlled senate confirmed that nominee, National
Abortion Rights Action League executive director Kate Michelman accused
senators of "a dangerous leap of faith (which) placed in jeopardy American
women's fundamental right to choose." The nominee -- Justice David Souter --
went on to become a stalwart pro-abortion vote on the Supreme Court.
Estrada isn't likely to become another Souter. Conservatives
certainly don't believe he will. But the point is, his failure to inform the
Senate about his private views on abortion shouldn't be held against
Estrada, even by the pro-abortion ideologues that constitute the Democrats'
Nonetheless, by not exposing the Democrats for the
obstructionists they are, Republicans have opened themselves up to the
charge by Democrats that it is Republicans who are to blame for bringing
Senate work to a standstill with the Estrada nomination. Worse, Republicans
have confused the issue by insisting on talking during this phony Democrat
filibuster in a misguided attempt to make sure the pro-Estrada side gets
equal time in the debate. Anyone tuning in to the debate on C-SPAN wouldn't
have any idea from watching this charade that the Democrats are the real
holdup on Senate action.
I've seen it time and again in my 30 years in Washington.
Republicans play by gentlemen's rules. Democrats play to win. Republican
sportsmanlike conduct has cost them dearly over the years. Republican
diffidence helped doom Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination, almost
derailed Clarence Thomas' confirmation to the high court, and is likely to
defeat Miguel Estrada's appellate court bid as well.
It is probably too late now to force the Democrats' hand.
Republicans moreover may believe that if Democrats succeed in blocking
Estrada's confirmation, Hispanic voters will punish Democrats at the polls.
Don't bet on it. More likely, Hispanics will see that for all their good
intentions, Republicans can't deliver when it counts.