WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans forced committee approval of three of President Bush's judicial nominees Thursday, despite Democrats' efforts to delay action as they have delayed the high-profile nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal appellate bench.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, overrode committee rules to send U.S. Appeals Court nominees Deborah Cook and John Roberts to the Republican-controlled Senate, despite Democratic objections that they had the right to continue hold the nominees in committee.
"We're not going to have filibusters in committee," said an often-angry Hatch at the end of a three-hour hearing in which sharp words were exchanged between himself and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
The three-hour hearing was heated at times, with Democrats at one point walking out to prevent Hatch from having enough committee members present to vote and Hatch and Kennedy exchanging sharp words. "You may bully some but you're not going to bully me," Kennedy told Hatch.
"You're not going to bully me either," Hatch replied later.
For three weeks, Democrats have held up a confirmation vote on Estrada's nomination by threatening a full-blown filibuster to force him to answer more of their questions.
But Democrats now are likely at least to ask for an extended Senate floor debate on Roberts and Cook to protest Hatch's action, even though both got votes from Judiciary Democrats.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the lead Judiciary Democrat, said Hatch is ignoring committee rules that require a Democrat to agree to end a committee filibuster. Hatch said Senate parliamentarians informed him that as chairman he could force a vote on the president's nominees.
Cook, an Ohio Supreme Court justice, was approved by the committee by a 12-2 vote, with the rest of the Democrats passing or voting "present" to reserve their right to bring the issue up on the Senate floor. Roberts, a Washington appellate lawyer, was approved by the 19-member committee by a 14-3 vote with the rest of the Democrats passing or voting present.
The committee also sent the appellate court nomination of Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee of Nevada to the Senate for confirmation by a 12-6, with Leahy again voting "present." Democrats had agreed earlier to allow his nomination through regardless of what happened with Cook and Roberts.
Democrats say they didn't have enough time to question Cook and Roberts during their original confirmation hearing because Hatch had three federal appellate candidates at the same hearing, instead of considering them one at a time. Liberals have accused Cook of ruling with business interests too much as a judges, and Roberts of opposing abortion rights, affirmative action and environmental protection laws.
Democrats blocked a committee vote on Roberts and Cook last week in hopes of getting additional questions, but White House counsel Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday the White House would resist additional hearings on the two, who were first nominated in May 2001.
Democrats are now likely to at least force a debate on Hatch's decision on the Senate floor, and could even filibuster Cook and Roberts' nomination. "I don't expect it but I wouldn't put it past them," Hatch said.
Bush has called it a "travesty" that Democratic senators have refuse to allow a full Senate vote on Estrada's nomination.
"They're blocking the vote on this good man for purely political reasons," Bush said.
Democrats have refused to let Estrada's nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia come up for a final Senate vote for three weeks because they say the Washington lawyer was not forthcoming about his legal opinions during his confirmation hearing last year.
Republicans lack the 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to force Democrats to allow a vote on Estrada.