WASHINGTON – Senate leaders neared agreement Friday on a deal to speed confirmation of some of President Bush's judicial nominees in exchange for putting an aide to Majority Leader Tom Daschle on the Federal Communications Commission.
"We've made substantial progress," Daschle said of negotiations over the past few weeks, including a meeting Thursday with White House officials.
The South Dakota Democrat said he hoped an agreement could be completed Monday for voting on nominations throughout next week before the Senate takes a weeklong July Fourth holiday.
Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has been blocking Bush's nomination of Jonathan S. Adelstein, an aide on Daschle's staff since 1995, for what is traditionally a Democratic seat on the five-member communications panel.
"If we are able to work out an agreement on several other nominations, including judges, I would have no objection personally to the White House sending him up here," Lott told Telecommunications Reports.
Lott has contended that Adelstein is too inexperienced for the FCC post. But his opposition hardened after his friend, U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering, lost his bid for a U.S. Court of Appeals seat. The Democrat-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted the nomination down along party lines in March.
Another Daschle nominee, Federal Election Commission candidate Ellen Weintraub, could face similar opposition from Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell has said he will allow action on Weintraub's nomination only when more of Bush's judicial candidates are approved.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has refused to discuss potential deals, saying only that Democrats have done a good job confirming judges and that he would support whatever Daschle does.
Bush has made 103 judicial nominations since becoming president. The Senate has confirmed 57 of them, a 55 percent confirmation rate. However, the Senate has confirmed only nine of Bush's 31 U.S. Appeals Court nominations, jurists who would staff the courts directly below the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republicans have used threats to hold up legislation to prod Democrats to act more quickly on Bush's judicial nominations. Democrats took control of the Senate last June, when Vermont Sen. James Jefford defected from the Republican Party to become an independent.
But delaying Adelstein's nomination is the first personal chit they've had to use against Daschle.
The Democratic leader did the same thing when he was minority leader and his party controlled the White House and wanted more judges from an opposition Senate.
In May 2000, Lott, then majority leader in charge of a Republican Senate under Democratic President Clinton, wanted Bradley A. Smith placed on the Federal Election Commission.
Democrats blocked the nomination for months, saying Smith had written pieces opposing some laws the FEC is charged with enforcing. They also complained that Clinton's judicial nominations weren't getting through fast enough in the president's final year.
Lott and Daschle finally cut a deal. In exchange for Democrats letting Smith through, Daschle got votes putting 16 of Clinton's judicial nominees on the bench and approving 47 appointments to other posts.