GOP Goes on Estrada Offensive

The GOP launched a radio talk show blitz on Wednesday in defense of Miguel Estrada, one day after Senate Republicans picked up another Democratic vote in favor of President Bush's embattled judicial nominee.

For his part, Bush told the Latino Coalition on Wednesday that the treatment of Estrada by Senate Democrats is a "travesty."

"They're blocking the vote on this good man for purely political reasons," Bush told supporters in a White House event where he alternately spoke Spanish to bring Hispanic backers to their feet.

"I will stand by this man's side until he is sworn in!" Bush said.

The coalition was headed from the White House to Capitol Hill to discuss with lawmakers their support for Estrada.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said that he would join all 51 Republicans and three Democrats in backing Estrada, a former Justice Department assistant solicitor general, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

"After reviewing Mr. Estrada's personal and professional credentials, including personally interviewing the nominee, I believe he is qualified to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court and I will vote in favor of his nomination," Nelson said in a statement.

That brings the total number of supporters to 55 for the candidate vying to become the first Hispanic justice on the court and a de facto candidate for the Supreme Court. Sixty votes are needed to prevent Democrats from leading a filibuster against Estrada, whom they say is too conservative for the bench.

The three other Democrats who have said they would support Estrada are Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Zell Miller of Georgia and John Breaux of Louisiana.

Republicans are now targeting senators in other states with high Hispanic populations, specifically Bob Graham of Florida, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas.

Democrats say they will filibuster until they get more information from the nominee about his legal views. Democrats have complained that Estrada is a stealth nominee who refuses to state his positions on issues that are likely to face the court.

Republicans have long considered that a bluff and Tuesday they called it, offering to compile a written list of additional questions from both parties to pose to the nominee.

"I will work toward getting answers to any reasonable list of questions that can be worked out on both sides of the aisle," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

On Wednesday, Bush repeated the offer, saying he would make Estrada available to any senator who had questions despite what he called a "double standard" placed on the nominee.

"Senators are applying a double standard on Miguel Estrada by requiring him to answer questions that other judicial nominees have not been forced to answer," Bush said, "and that is not right and that is not fair."

Estrada has faced 125 questions, and has dodged some and answered others. His backers, including at least five former solicitors general from both parties, have said that as an assistant solicitor general in the Clinton Justice Department, Estrada represented the government's position in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, but to give up those documents would be a violation of attorney-client privilege.

Republicans also argue that several Clinton nominees faced far fewer questions. One nominee, they said, answered three questions.

So far, the filibuster, which began two weeks ago, has been an on-again, off-again affair with senators able to take breaks and occasionally switch subjects to deal with other matters. Some Republicans have said if the GOP is really to put up a fight, they should force Democrats to conduct an old-style filibuster and hold the floor 'round the clock.

At the same time, Democrats who refuse to end the debate, accused Republicans of keeping the discussion on Estrada to avoid debate on more important issues.

"As this economy worsens, we spend our time on the floor totally consumed with one nomination having to do with a circuit court nominee for the District of Columbia," Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Wednesday. "This is the third week we have been on it now. Now, we can resolve this matter if Mr. Estrada will come forth with the information. But if he will not, let's move to something else until he does."

On Tuesday, for the first time as a conference, Republicans discussed logistics for having all 51 senators available on the floor to begin the process of making the filibuster go 24 hours a day.

"That will be done," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "We want to make sure that they won't say they haven't had time to debate."

Republicans believe that the Estrada battle is not penetrating the national consciousness because of war, terrorism, and recent shocking headlines like the nightclub tragedies in Chicago and West Warwick, R.I.

To bring attention to the issue, the GOP notes that 50 medium to large-size newspapers have taken editorial positions in support of Estrada and only seven have opposed him. Pro-Estrada papers include The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Dallas Morning News, The Chicago Tribune and The Denver Rocky Mountain News.

Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.