A dead deal

Posted: Jun 01, 2005 12:00 AM

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.

 Many Democrats -- including a fair number of members of Congress -- seem unwilling to accept the results of last year's election. They believed they were cheated out of the White House in 2000 and were sure they would win it back in 2004. When Americans didn't oblige them, they tried to set up roadblocks to the president's ability to get his agenda through. They don't want the president to appoint federal appellate judges, much less a Supreme Court nominee. They want to punish the president for daring to pick candidates who reflect his own conservative values, even though the voters affirmed the president's leadership. And some Democrats would love nothing better than to embarrass the president in international opinion, which is where Bolton's nomination holdup comes in. Nothing could please these sore losers more than to see the president humiliated in front of the United Nations if Bolton fails to win confirmation.

 There's still time for cooler Democratic heads to prevail. Sens. Byrd, Lieberman, Salazar and Inouye could still do the right thing and vote for cloture on the Bolton nomination when the Senate comes back from its Memorial Day recess. But I'm not holding my breath. Bipartisanship has come to be a one-way affair. No matter how unprincipled the Democrats behave, they are rarely called to account. Only when Republicans cave in to Democratic demands do we hear accolades about statesmanship.

 I still don't like the "nuclear option," but the Democrats may leave Republicans no choice. There's still one last chance to salvage the compromise, but the Democrats have to play fair and abide by its spirit as well as its words.