WASHINGTON – President Bush blasted Senate Democrats for holding up a handful of his judicial nominations as Republicans continued their 30-hour talkathon Thursday and Democrats vowed to uphold their obligation to review Bush's choices.
Standing in the White House with three judges — all women — whose nominations have been blocked, Bush described them as "superb women" who were being "denied a chance to serve on the bench because of ugly politics in the United States Senate."
"Senators are playing politics and it's wrong and it's shameful and it's hurting the system," the president added.
After pulling a coffee-infused all-nighter Wednesday, the Senate GOP on Thursday continued its dramatic talkfest protesting Democratic tactics to block the judicial choices from being voted on.
Appearing Thursday on Fox News, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search), D-S.D., said it's the Senate's job to keep the president's decisions in check.
"The founding fathers had the wisdom to say there ought to be more of a requirement in the Senate," Daschle told Fox. "They said we have to be the advisors. We are living up to those responsibilities today.
"We're not a rubber stamp. We can't be. We can't say, 'whoever you nominate we'll confirm.'"
At issue is the Senate Democratic leadership's objections to four nominees on grounds that they're too conservative.
"It probably won't change anything, but we think the American people need to understand what's going on," Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (search), R-Ky., told Fox News on Thursday. "It really is unprecedented."
In each nominee's case, Democrats have threatened filibusters, open-ended debate sessions that require 60 votes to override. With a two-vote majority in the 100-seat Senate, Republicans have failed to do so every time.
Also on Fox News on Thursday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (search), D-N.J., called the marathon debate a "circus" and said the government should be focusing on Iraq, not on judges.
"I don’t know why we're having this debate about these four judges when there are people in mourning because caskets are coming home," Lautenberg told Fox.
Republicans were pressing votes to break the blockade of three pending nominees: California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown (search), nominated for the nation's second most powerful court, the Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit; Carolyn Kuhl (search), nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen (search), chosen for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Another contender blocked by Democrats, Miguel Estrada (search), withdrew his nomination in September out of frustration with the delays.
"What's been unique here is the filibuster is being used to kill judicial nominations for the first time in the history of the United States," McConnell told Fox. "It is an unfortunate step to take. ... Someday the shoe is going to be on the other foot. They're going to be quite sorry they established this precedent."
Democrats repeatedly reminded their GOP colleagues throughout the night that they had approved 168 of Bush's judicial nominees.
"The American people, when they realize that we have approved 168 judges and blocked four — four of those out of the mainstream — they are going to say, 'What is all the fuss about?'" said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
McConnell said senators worked in shifts overnight Wednesday, and most did get a little shut-eye.
"I had a cot in my office, and I slept some," he told Fox.
Democrats, some appearing amused by the pomp and circumstance, were already waiting in the Senate chamber at the beginning of the debates. The Senate had just finished a vote, and many of the GOP senators had to leave the chamber just to join the group marching back in.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, held a sign he displayed for television cameras and passing Republican senators as they entered the chamber: "I'll be home watching 'The Bachelor.'"
Some Democrats, with civil-rights and abortion-rights supporters at their sides, even composed a "bedtime story" for the bleary-eyed Republicans that lampooned their refusal to accept a 98 percent judicial confirmation rate.
"One hundred sixty-eight is a very big number," read Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (search). "Do you know what one hundred sixty-eight looks like? It looks like this."
Another large Democratic sign, purple with "168 to 4" written in gold, upset Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
"That is clearly against the Senate rules," said Gregg, who had Democrats remove it until their turn to speak.
Republicans contended that the numbers did not tell the whole story.
For Bush's first 18 months in office, Democrats ran the Senate, and the administration suffered the lowest rate of judicial confirmations since Jimmy Carter.
"The Constitution says that the president's nominees are to be voted, and that a majority of senators are to vote. To get confirmed, you need a majority of senators and that's 50 or 51, not 60," said Sen. George Allen, R-Va.
Republicans brought out their own sign saying "0 to 4" to represent the number of U.S. Appeals Court filibusters on the Senate floor before President Bush came into office.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., condemned the Republicans for abandoning an appropriations bill to launch the debate.
"I'm not participating in this, this marathon, talkathon, blameathon, whatever you want to call this," Byrd said. "I'm not interested in that right now. I'm interested in the appropriations bill."
As it got later, fewer than 10 lawmakers were left on the floor as senators started preparing for the overnight shifts.
While most of the focus was on the Senate floor, senators buttressed their cases by holding news conferences throughout the night condemning the opposing side for its tactics: Republicans on the Democratic filibusters, Democrats on the Republicans' "reverse filibuster."
"Once they hit the floor, based upon all the history of this country, they deserve a vote up or down," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We did that for the Clinton administration and all prior administrations. And it's time they do it for this administration, because this is a constitutional disaster waiting to happen unless we stand up and do what has to be done."
Democrats countered that the White House and its GOP allies wanted to recast the federal judiciary as a conservative stronghold. Democrats say they have confirmed most Bush nominees and have stopped only stridently anti-abortion and pro-business conservatives.
"We are not going to roll over, be stampeded and rubber-stamped by this administration to make the judiciary in this country their sandbox to play in. We are going to insist that those judges that are going to serve on the courts of this country are going to be committed to the fundamental core values of the Constitution of the United States," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
In 1999, Kennedy described Republican efforts to bottle up dozens of former President Clinton's judicial nominees as "an abdication of the Senate's constitutional responsibility to work with the president and ensure the integrity of our federal courts."
Republicans scheduled the 30-hour debate despite their effort to finish bills revamping Medicare and energy policy, plus eight overdue spending bills in time to adjourn by Nov. 21.
"We only wish they would devote the kind of attention they are to these 30 hours to the matters that the American people care most about," said Daschle. "They care a lot about the fact that 3 million of them don't have jobs. They care a lot about the fact that their health insurance is rising by more than 15 percent a year."
But Republicans wanted to draw attention to the blockades, having failed multiple times to get the 60 votes to force the confirmations in a Senate split with 51 GOP senators, 48 Democrats and one independent.
"Through our actions tonight, Republicans hopefully will be able to focus more attention on this problem, which in turn might stimulate enough outrage by the American public to sway at least a few more Democratic senators to do the right thing and give these nominees a vote," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Frist scheduled a Friday filibuster vote on Owen, Kuhl and Brown, but the GOP has yet to win one of those votes this year.
Not since 1994 has the Senate been in session past 4 a.m., Senate observers said.
Both sides set up strategy rooms right off the Senate floor with large-screen televisions and props to help make their case to reporters and late-night C-SPAN viewers.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for example, had a T-shirt saying "We confirmed 98 percent of President Bush's judges" on the front while the back said "and all we got was this lousy T-shirt."
Advocates of civil and abortion rights, who have led the opposition against the four nominees, gave out care packages that included coffee, painkillers and breath mints.
The 30-hour grudge match will give Republicans and Democrats a lot of time to try to beat each other senseless, but whether it will break the logjam on Bush judicial nominations appears unlikely.
Republicans admit that the effort is not really aimed at the judges up for confirmation, but for those who sit on another court — the court of public opinion.
Fox News' Major Garrett, Brian Wilson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.