WASHINGTON – The Senate readied cots and coffee for a talkathon set to last all Wednesday night on who's to blame for some of President Bush's nominees not making it to the federal appeals bench.
For 30 straight hours - from Wednesday evening through midnight Thursday - Republicans and Democrats will condemn each other in 30-minutes face-offs over four filibustered U.S. Appeals Court nominees: Alabama Attorney General William Pryor (search), Texas judge Priscilla Owen, Mississippi judge Charles Pickering and Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada (search).
Democrats have refused to allow confirmation votes, and Republicans have not been able to get the 60 votes to force them in a Senate split with 51 GOP senators, 48 Democrats and one independent. Frustrated at the delays, Estrada withdrew his nomination in September.
Republicans hope the all-night Senate session - the first to go past 4 a.m. since 1992 - will help publicize the blocked nominees. Conservatives have complained the GOP hasn't done enough to highlight the Democrats' blockades.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., called the talkathon a "reverse filibuster."
"Filibusters (search) are put forward by the minority to try and block action from occurring," he said. "We're trying to move to the floor to try to force action on judicial nominations. We're going to do everything we can to get a vote on judges, and they're going to do everything they can to block a vote on judges."
Democrats say they're looking forward to 15 free hours to criticize the president and the GOP on the economy, problems in Iraq and Bush's choices for key judgeships. The Senate has confirmed 168 of Bush's judicial nominees, while Democrats have blocked four.
"If they need help filibustering themselves, we'll be glad to pitch in," Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said.
While no one expects the marathon to break the logjam on the nominees, the potential for trickery is there.
The two sides plan to split the 30 hours and trade shifts so that there will be a senator from each party on the floor at all times. For example, a Republican will talk from 3 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., while a Democrat watches. They'll switch roles for the next 30 minutes and then head home to bed, replaced by two others for the next shift.
Because Senate rules require agreement from both sides to quickly confirm a nominee, the GOP can't force a confirmation vote as long as a Democrat is present on the floor to object. But if they fall asleep or stop paying attention, Santorum said, the GOP will immediately confirm the nominees.
"They're forewarned: If the floor is not protected, the vote will be" called, Santorum said. "We are going to do everything we can to do what they're doing, ratcheting up the intensity on this issue."
In turn, Daschle said, if Republicans stop paying attention, they will immediately pass Democratic legislation like a bill to raise the minimum wage (search) or one to create a tax credit to stimulate creation of manufacturing jobs.
"The Republicans are consumed by those four jobs and ignore the 3 million jobs that we've lost over the course of the last three years under this administration's economic policies," Daschle said.