WASHINGTON – The Democratic senators vying for the party's presidential nomination voted Thursday to block Miguel Estrada's judicial nomination with one notable exception -- Sen. Bob Graham.
Recuperating at his Florida home following Jan. 31 heart surgery, Graham's spokesman said the senator has not decided whether to support President Bush's nominee, who, if confirmed, would become the first Hispanic on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Graham has to decide whether to break party ranks to support Estrada at the same time he is pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination. But the senator has not ruled out running for re-election next year in Florida, where one in six residents is Hispanic, and he already is facing criticism from a possible Republican rival that he is undermining an Honduran immigrant's promotion to the bench.
"It's cowardly that Senator Graham didn't even bother to voice an opinion on this historic vote," said Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. "Now that he's launched his presidential campaign, we're seeing a new Bob Graham - a Bob Graham who is more concerned with pandering to liberal Democratic primary voters rather than standing up for a nominee who would make Florida's Hispanic community proud."
Graham spokesman Paul Anderson said the senator did not see the need to stop his recuperation and rush back to Washington when his vote would not have changed the outcome. Republicans fell five votes short of the 60 needed to end the filibuster and force a final vote.
"Rather than interrupt his exercise he says he'll be back next week and vote when he needs to vote," Anderson said.
Graham's indecision stems from his disenchantment with the politicization of judicial nominations, according to his aide. "He's deeply disturbed by that and trying to figure out if there is a way of confronting it," Anderson said.
The senator is considering whether he should join the Republicans in voting to end the filibuster, and then oppose Estrada's nomination. But Anderson acknowledged that an end to the filibuster would likely lead to Estrada's confirmation because Democrats lack the majority of votes to block his placement on the bench.
Graham's presidential rivals in the Senate - John Edwards of North Carolina, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut - were among those who voted to continue the delay. Republicans say they will bring up the nomination repeatedly until Estrada gets a confirmation vote.
Estrada supporters have run ads on Florida radio stations in support of his nomination. The state's junior senator, Bill Nelson, is one of four Democrats who broke ranks with the party to support an end to the filibuster, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has urged Graham to support the nomination.