WASHINGTON – The Senate's Democratic leader said Sunday that Republicans "would rue the day" if they try to make it harder for Democrats to stall judicial nominees who could not get a vote last year.
But Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., said he hoped a new "optimistic" climate would take hold now that Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (search) is the top Democrat, succeeding the defeated Tom Daschle of South Dakota, whom the GOP labeled an obstructionist.
"I think everybody wants to be more reasonable," Frist said. "The American people deserve it."
Nonetheless, Frist did not back away from threats to impose a drastic rule change that could eliminate the effectiveness of the Senate opposition's main delaying tactic, the filibuster (search), if the Democrats were to refuse to let the full Senate vote on President Bush's judicial nominees.
Bush made the Democrats' opposition to his court picks a campaign issue.
Reid compared Bush's talk of crisis in judicial nominations to the president's rhetoric on Social Security (search). "He's trying to create crisis with judges and with Social Security. They don't exist," Reid told ABC's "This Week."
"We have approved for the president of the United States 204 judges the last four years," he said. "We've turned down 10. Even in modern math, that's a pretty good deal."
He said the 10 who did not get a vote in 2004 "were rightfully turned down." The White House announced last month that Bush would renominate them.
Asked whether the filibusters would be repeated in the new congressional session, Reid said: "Well, I don't know, unless something's changed, and I don't think a thing in the world has changed. The background of these men and women that he brought forward, the 10 that we turned down, should have been turned down, and we'll turn them down again."
Reid was reminded of Frist's threat to invoke a "nuclear option," which would let the majority in the 100-member Senate stop a filibuster with 51 votes rather than the current 60.
"If they want to carry that through, it's a short-term victory for them, because they're not going to be in the majority forever," he said. "We're going to be in the majority. That's the way history is. And I think that they would rue the day they did that."
Frist could invoke the "nuclear option" (search) by having the Senate president, Vice President Dick Cheney, rule that filibustering violates the body's constitutional duty of advice and consent to judicial nominations. Such rulings can be upheld with a simple majority.