Senate Braces For Marathon Session

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, November 11, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Members of the Senate on both sides of the political aisle are bracing for around-the-clock marathon session starting tomorrow evening. Republicans hope to literally talk Democrats into voting for several, or at least voting on several of President Bush's stalled judicial nominees.

But Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson reports, Democratic resistance is well underway.


BRIAN WILSON, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: When last we left the continuing drama on Capitol Hill, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat had seized the floor and was refusing to let go. Senator Harry Reid was covering a wide range of topics of no particular importance. At one point, he quoted extensively about a book he wrote about Searchlight, Nevada, his hometown.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), JUDICIAL CMTE.: We're getting to a point now where in this book, we're going to find out how Searchlight got its name. And I hope; as I know the chair will, give me your full attention because it is one of the most asked questions there is. How did Searchlight get its name?

WILSON: All told, Reid held the Senate floor for eight and a half hours.

REID: I hope I haven't been too offensive to those on that side of the aisle. I yield the floor.

WILSON: The Republican majority leader seemed frustrated that work in the Senate had ground to a halt.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: It is obvious that delay will occur on every front. And indeed, I think that is unfortunate given the amount of business that we have to do.

WILSON: What's this all about? Well, Reid was stalling so that other Democrats would not have to attend the Monday session. But he was also protesting the Republicans' plan to schedule 30 straight hours of debate this week on contested Bush judicial appeals court nominations. Republicans have enough votes to get them approved. They don't have the 60 votes needed to break threatened Democratic filibusters. Republicans insist all they want is a straight up or down vote.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), JUDICIARY CMTE.: Vote them up, vote them down. Just vote.

WILSON: Democrats are not pleased to be spending 30 straight hours defending their filibuster threat. They say they have plans to talk about other things with their half of the time.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: So we will be focused first on setting the records straight with regard to the judges. But also putting our attention where we think it ought to go, where it belongs. And that is to the three million people who have lost their jobs.


WILSON: The 30 hours begins at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, cots and food are being brought in; in case they are needed. The Republicans say if the Democrats abandon the floor for even a moment, they will ram through these nominations. The Democrats say there is absolutely zero chance that will happen.

So likely at midnight on Thursday, when the 30-hour is over, the only thing that will have changed is that 100 United States senators will be more cranky and more tired than they are at this moment -- Brit.

HUME: Brian Wilson, thank you very much.

Joining us for more on this Senate marathon is the author and journalist Terry Eastland who has been following this for The Weekly Standard, of which he is also publisher.

Terry, welcome. Nice to see you.


HUME: You just heard Brian Wilson say that 100 senators will be a little bit more tired and cranky when this is all over with. It used to be when I covered the Senate and a filibuster came along, that it was the most exhausted people would be the people who were using the filibuster resist and had to hold the floor and talk and talk and talk, while the people who were in the majority didn't have to work so hard. This time it looks to me as if the Republicans have to stick around and the Democrats only need one member to represent their interest. Explain why that is.

EASTLAND: Well, I think what you see now is the Republicans are trying to cause something to happen, as opposed to the older efforts where there was an effort to prevent something from happening.

HUME: Well, aren't the Democrats, though in effect, in a filibuster because they are blocking the vote here on these nominations?

EASTLAND: That's right. They have decided as a matter of strategy that they would use the filibuster, which has never been used before to deny a vote on judicial nominee by a president. So, this is what's unusual about it. Now, a cloture petition will be filed tomorrow...

HUME: That is a -- a cloture means cutting off the debate and commencement to a vote, right?

EASTLAND: That's right. And it takes 48 hours to write, in two days. And it will be ready to be voted on Friday morning. And there will be an attempt to vote at that time. And what will happen is, once again, the Democrats on, I think, three particular nominees, I think, will be brought up. They will be able to keep their troops together and they will defeat the filibuster.

HUME: Because it requires three-fifths of the Senate to shut the debate off. And the Republicans have a majority to pass these nominations, but not the three-fifths needed to stop the debate?

EASTLAND: Republicans have 51. They will probably pick up one or two or three more Democrats. On each of these they will have enough to confirm, but not to end the debates.

HUME: So there is this 30-hour marathon set on the Senate floor. The only way the Republicans can get a debate during that would be if the Democrats left the chamber unoccupied for a moment. And then they can quickly bring the matters up, right?

EASTLAND: All the Democrats have to do is keep one body there. And what will happen is if they are not there; the Republicans can indeed do what they want to do. That was exactly what Brian reported and that is correct.

HUME: All right. But it only takes one member of the Democratic side to stop. Meanwhile, Republicans have to stay there in force why?

EASTLAND: Well, they have to stay there in force because they want to have their numbers there in case a Democrat is not there holding the floor. They want to keep their numbers there to be able to do what they want to do.

HUME: So, what happens to the Republicans is, instead of punishing the Democrats by making them stay up all night, the Republicans are going to have to stay there all night and through the next day to protect their side. And the Democrats can do it with one person?

EASTLAND: Then their punishment is their salvation, that's what they think in any event.

HUME: Well, what do they expect to come out? What do the Republicans hope to accomplish by doing this when it doesn't seem obvious that it will work?

EASTLAND: Well, in my reporting indicates to me the Republicans don't have any expectation that the Democrats, A, will quit this strategy. Or, B, abandon the floor, or will go to any rules change. They think that what will happen is we will have the status quo persisting and highlighted to the American people what the Democratic strategy is. That's their hope. Democrats say they will use some of their time to explain their side of this story as well on judges.

HUME: Well, so the Republicans are hoping, then, that they will be able to embarrass the Democrats by -- but who's going to know this? Who is going to know it's happening? It's going to require coverage, right?

EASTLAND: Well, it's going to require coverage. I think they're relying on talk radio. They're requiring -- they're relying on sort of the conservative network, if you will, to relay this information.

HUME: Why would talk radio be interested in a 30-hour deal that ran all night and through the day?

EASTLAND: Well, if you go over there tomorrow, you will see that they have -- they're going to be staked out. They're going to be interviewing Republican senators all along...

HUME: Oh, you mean they've invited the talk radio hosts in?

EASTLAND: Well, they'll at least going to have hookups. They'll have conversations. This will be going on tomorrow and the next Thursday and Friday, Friday morning.

HUME: And then come Friday morning, one, the Republicans do not expect that at that moment they will be able to succeed on a vote...


HUME: So, when do they expect that this may ever pan out for them?

EASTLAND: Well, I think what would happen would be this. If they lose, is they probably will lose. There will have been -- we've had four nominees successfully blocked, votes on those nominees. And I think there will be maybe six that will come out that have been blocked. And at that point, I think Bill Frist might go to the Republican Caucus and say it's time for more drastic measures.

So they might, at a later date, not this week, but at a later date, they might move to try to take the "nuclear option," as it's been called, where they try to seek a change in the Senate rules.

HUME: Well, now normally a change in the Senate rules is a measure that would have to go through the Rules Committee, come out on the Senate floor and be favorably acted upon by the Senate in full. And therefore, could itself could be blocked by filibusters, correct?

EASTLAND: Exactly. And so that is not going to happen, either.

HUME: But there is another option isn't there, that has to do with the parliamentarian ruling?

EASTLAND: Well, there is that as well. The "nuclear option" as they call it.

HUME: How does that is work?

EASTLAND: Well, the way that would work is they would seek a ruling from the chair, in terms of whether or not they can simply have a simple majority to decide this question.

HUME: In other words, they could say when it comes to judicial nominations, the filibusters cannot be used to block...

EASTLAND: Cannot be used...

HUME: To block a vote?

EASTLAND: And there is a constitutional argument some of them might make at that point.

HUME: Right. What would presumably happen was that the chair would either rule yes, he agrees with that, or no. And then somebody would appeal it on one sides or the other.


HUME: And then a simple majority would determine that -- could decide that, right?

EASTLAND: Could decide that question. The Democrats have threatened to shut down entirely all the business in the Senate if that move is made.

HUME: But it could be done?

EASTLAND: It could be done. But see, what is lacking is Republican will here. There are probably anywhere from four to 10 Republican senators that are unwilling to take that step

HUME: So you might not have a majority for it even if you tried it?

EASTLAND: I don't think so.

HUME: Terry Eastland, glad to have you. Thanks very much.

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