In the coming weeks, we may witness a vote in the United States Senate that will define the 109th Congress for the ages. This vote will not be about war and peace, the economy or the threat from terrorism.
First of all, who do we have to thank for that? The Bush administration and the majorities in both houses have done all they could to minimize public debate over war and peace, the economy, and the threat from terrorism. The Senate is supposed to be the deliberative body. The filibuster is supposed to be a tool of minorities. It's supposed to force the majority to compromise.
When I was the Senate Republican leader, President Bill Clinton nominated two judges to the federal bench - H. Lee Sarokin and Rosemary Barkett - whose records, especially in criminal law, were particularly troubling to me and my Republican colleagues. Despite my misgivings, both received an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor and were confirmed.
Both were filibustered, Senator. Both were filibustered. So too was Surgeon General Designate Dr. Henry Foster, in 1995, while you were Republican leader.
When I was a leader in the Senate, a judicial filibuster was not part of my procedural playbook. Asking a senator to filibuster a judicial nomination was considered an abrogation of some 200 years of Senate tradition.
The cloture rule was extended in 1949.
President Bush has the lowest appellate-court confirmation rate of any modern president.
You just have to read that sentence to figure there's some statistics-mining going on, don't you? But what you won't realize at a glance is this: in Clinton's second term his appellate-court confirmation rate was nine percentage points lower than Bush's.
Let's just all turn our cards up at this point. Senate Republicans systematically obstructed Bill Clinton's judicial appointments. Sixty is the commonly-given figure, as opposed to the ten Bush appointees we're willing to change the rules over here. Republicans changed the blue-slip rules once that petard was in their own hands. That has led to less bipartisan consultation on appointments. Use of the filibuster is their remedy under the circumstances.
Old whores become respectable. Once upon a time old senators did too.