WASHINGTON – A leading Senate Republican expressed hope Sunday for a deal to end the divisive fight over the filibustering of judicial nominees, saying that "some of us might be moderately intelligent enough to figure this out."
"We need to work through this," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (search), R-Neb., who is publicly undecided about whether to endorse the GOP threat to use their Senate majority to ban such filibusters.
Hagel noted that private talks are continuing between Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in an effort to work out a compromise.
"My goodness, you've got 100 United States senators. Some of us might be moderately intelligent enough to figure this out. We would, I think, debase our system and fail our country if we don't do this," Hagel told a Sunday morning broadcast television talk show.
"But you can't give up a minority rights tool in the interest of the country, like the filibuster (search)," he said.
To Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., "It's that kind of statement that gives us hope."
The GOP is talking about seeking a parliamentary ruling that declares filibusters are not permitted against judicial nominees. That ruling would ultimately be submitted to the full Senate for a vote, with a simple majority required to prevail.
During President Bush's first term, Democrats filibustered 10 nominees to federal appeals courts and have said they will do so again this year for the seven that Bush renominated. As of late March, the Senate had confirmed 204 judges chosen by Bush, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I know that Senator Frist and Senator Reid both want to work this out," Hagel said.
It takes 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to stop a filibuster and end unlimited debate intended to block legislation or a nomination. In the current Senate, there are 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one independent.
The vice president can break a 50-50 tie. Passing a bill or confirming a nominee requires only a simple majority, 51 senators if all 100 senators are present.
"The United States Senate is a minority rights institution unique in the world," Hagel said. "And I don't think either side wants to give that up. Now, the other part of this, which I also believe strongly, is that presidents deserve votes on their nominees."
Yet he noted that Republicans prevented votes on many of President Clinton's choices for the federal bench.
"The Republicans' hands aren't clean on this either. What we did with Bill Clinton's nominees — about 62 of them — we just didn't give them votes in committee or we didn't bring them up," Hagel said.