Published November 06, 2002
The Republican victory in the battle for the U.S. Senate could produce dramatic payoffs for the Bush administration on a variety of vital issues, including homeland security, the federal budget and dozens of judicial appointments.
And those changes could also come more quickly than many in the political establishment believed possible just days ago.
Tuesday night's victory in the Missouri race means the GOP could take control of the Senate even before the new Congress is seated in January, since Jim Talent will immediately take office after defeating Sen. Jean Carnahan. The widow of former Sen. Mel Carnahan was named to the seat after her husband died in a plane crash in 2000.
"This is one of the most remarkable off-year elections in history," said Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives and Fox News analyst. "I think the president is really going to be strengthened by this kind of showing."
Gingrich and other experts said the administration would be able to move much more quickly on at least three important agendas, each of which had been stymied by a mostly unified Democratic opposition in the Senate.
The first order of business might be to clear a backlog of spending bills that have languished in the Senate for months. Some 12 appropriations measures need to be addressed, affecting almost every federal agency except for the Department of Defense.
"The president will now feel going to the state of the union that he can get some real reform enacted," said Gingrich. "This election is a remarkably important step in that direction."
The administration is also expected to press hard on the passage of a Homeland Security bill. President Bush has been at loggerheads with Democrats over labor issues related to the creation of the department.
But perhaps the most dramatic change could come in the confirmation of a huge backlog of judicial appointments. The Senate has confirmed only 15 of 32 appeals court nominees submitted by Bush. As of last week, 15 unconfirmed nominees had languished for more than a year.
The president spoke out on the subject in the days before the election, saying the judicial confirmation process "does not work as it should.
"Nominees are too often mistreated," he said in a weekly radio address. "Votes are delayed, hearings are denied and dozens of federal judgeships sit empty, endangering the quality of justice in America.
"There is no good reason why any nominee should endure a year, a year and a half, or more, without the courtesy of an up-or-down floor vote," Bush said in his address. "Whatever the explanation, we clearly have a poisoned atmosphere in which well-qualified nominees are neither voted up nor voted down -- they're just left in limbo."
Gingrich predicted that that will no longer be a problem.
"I think you're going to see some quick action on that front," he said Wednesday morning on the Fox News Channel. "You're going to see the appointment of good, solid conservative judges, qualified judges."
Some Democrats, however, were already predicting they would form an effective Senate opposition. With at least 47 senators, Democrats will still be able to use filibusters -- procedural delays -- to kill Republican initiatives because such roadblocks need only 41 votes to succeed.
"They could still muck up the works for Bush, that's for sure," said one election analyst.
The Associated Press contributed to this report