WASHINGTON – On the eve of the first Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a nominee previously blocked by Democrats, President Bush and Senate Republicans intensified demands Wednesday for an end to Democratic judicial filibusters.
Democrats have told the president to make a choice — an up-or-down vote on a handful of blocked judicial nominees or blockage of the rest of his agenda.
Bush said he doesn't want to make that choice.
"Hopefully, the Senate will be able to conduct business and also give my nominees a vote, an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate," the president said during a morning press conference.
Democrats warned Tuesday that they would block all legislation if Republicans canceled judicial filibusters (search). On Wednesday, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid appeared before a rally of hardcore party activitists and muffled talk of a potential government shutdown.
"The news reports today said we want to shut down the Senate. That couldn't be anything further from truth," said Reid of Nevada.
Democrats know that Republicans are swiftly passing high-priority bills. They say they fear that could leave only government spending bills for Democrats to block if the battle over the bench triggers all-out legislative war.
Democrats say they want no part of a shutdown debate. Instead, they accuse the president and GOP Senate allies of subverting the truth.
"The ideologues in the Senate want to turn what the founding fathers called the 'cooling saucer of democracy' into the rubber stamp of dictatorship," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
"Spread the word high and low, court-packing, court-packing, court-packing, no, no, no. Free speech, yes," said Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W. Va.
Democrats are under pressure to fight to the bitter end, and they face key supporters, such as Wade Henderson of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights (search), which accuses Democrats of being too soft on judicial nominees. The Senate has confirmed 204 Bush nominees and blocked 10.
"I'm not happy about the totality of the record of judges who have been approved. I think several of them should not have been confirmed," Henderson said.
Democrats say Senate rules allow them to deny judicial nominees a floor vote, requiring Republicans to assemble a 60-vote majority to break their filibuster. Republicans and some legal analysts brand those tactics as unprecedented.
"I think the Republicans are right that historically we've never seen the filibuster power used this extensively, and used quite frankly, this effectively, to block a large number of nominees," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
The Judiciary Committee votes Thursday on the confirmation of William Myers (search) to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Myers was filibustered last year but could be the vehicle Republicans drive to end the procedural block. GOP members say their first instinct, however, is to ask Democrats why a nominee with 58 Senate votes can't be seated on the federal bench.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.