WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) pledged Tuesday that any effort by Republicans to ban Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees would not apply to traditional filibusters that Senate rules permit the minority party to use on other legislative issues.
"There is no need for change in relation to legislative matters," Frist said in a statement issued before GOP senators met for their weekly policy meeting.
Frist was working to ensure he has 50 votes to approve a rules change that would end Democrats' ability to threaten filibusters of Bush's judicial nominees. Democrats blocked 10 of Bush's first-term appeals court nominations through filibuster (search) threats and allowed confirmation of 34. Bush has re-nominated seven of the 10.
While it takes only a majority vote to change Senate rules, it takes 60 senators to end a filibuster. The Senate has 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and a Democrat-leaning independent.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada suggested last week that getting rid of the legislative filibuster could be Frist's next target if he wins on the judicial filibuster.
That concerns some conservative groups like the Gun Owners of America (search) and the National Right to Work Committee (search), which oppose a judicial filibuster ban, saying a ban on legislative filibusters might be next. They say Republicans have used legislative filibuster threats to stop antigun and pro-union legislation and that weapon is too important to lose.
But Frist's statement said he "will not act in any way to impact the rights of colleagues when it comes to legislation" or try to change Senate rules that "now provide many tools for members, and leaders, to see legislative ideas brought to an up or down vote on the Senate floor."
Also on Tuesday, the Republican National Committee announced it would join the effort to stop the Democrats, sending e-mails calling for their supporters to contact Democratic senators and urge them to stop blocking Bush's nominees.
"Call your Democratic senator and tell them to do their job and give the president's judges an up or down vote!" the e-mail said.