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This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", May 21, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "The Beltway Boys" Saturday at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday at 1 and 6 a.m. EST.


SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R), MISSOURI: We don't have time to waste arguing over this so-called rules change. It is not a rules change that's being attempted by the Republican leader. It is insisting that the rules of the Senate be honored...

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: It's no exaggeration to say that if you destroy the idea of playing by the rules, then you invite distrust, disorder, and the disintegration of the American social fabric.




FRED BARNES, HOST: ... America as we know it will be forgotten.

KONDRACKE: The hot story is Hill hysterics...


KONDRACKE: That speech by Tom Harkin (search) is fairly typical of the kind of hyperbole that is flying across the Senate as we get into this nomination, this judicial nomination fight. I mean, the fight is over what's called the nuclear option. I mean, nuclear is a metaphor. They're beginning to take it literally as though the whole place is going to blow up if something happens.

On the Republican side, you had Bill Frist (search), who says that what the Democrats are doing by filibustering is "assassinating judges." Now, not true. You had your friend Rick Santorum (search) likened the Democrats to Hitler.


KONDRACKE: Now, on the Democratic side, Tom Harkin is, is pretty representative of what the Democrats have been saying, as though it's the end of Western civilization, or constitutional government. Hillary Clinton recently said, "What I see happening in
Washington is a concerted effort by the administration and the leadership in Congress to really create absolute power. They want to control the judiciary so they'll have all three branches of government."

Well, of course they want all three branches of government. That's not absolute power.


KONDRACKE: Kings are what, you know, is absolute power.

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: Dictators are absolute power.

Now, that said, what Thad Cochran (search) said is not true, that this is a de facto rules change, and the Republicans want to push it through by a simple majority when the rules say that you have to have two-thirds in order to change the rules.

Now, it's true that the Democrats routinely — filibustering is violating longstanding, 200-year Senate precedent. But changing the rules by, by aborting the rules is also a historical new precedent, and it's bad.

BARNES: Mort, you're, you're right about the hysterics. They really are astonishing to hear it. Now, which side is doing the most exaggerating? You didn't say. And, and of course, it's the Democrats, which to me means that they're losing, or they think they're losing. Usually the wilder the exaggeration, the worse off you are. And as best we could tell, and it's hard to tell who's ahead, because it's going to be such a close vote, if they ever get to a nuclear, the nuclear option.

But you're wrong about the vote on the nuclear option. You used the key word "precedent," and when you're establishing a new precedent, which they would, it only takes a majority vote. And Congressional Research Service and others have said that. OK.

There's a way to avoid the nuclear option. It is so simple, Mort. All Democrats have to do is stop routinely filibustering mainstream conservative nominees by President Bush. That's all they have to do. You can then save the filibuster for these so-called extraordinary cases, or extraordinary circumstances.

But they're not doing that. Look what they've done to Priscilla Owen (search), who, the first nominee up on, on the floor, they, they've batted her around, they've distorted her rulings, they've said she was in the dissenter in cases when she was actually in the majority.

Let me give you an example of the kind of thing they've done, this case involving a woman who was raped by a door-to-door salesman, whose company had not done a background check. Well, they claim that Priscilla Owen said she had no right to sue that guy who had raped her or the company that he worked for.

That's not what she wrote at all. She sort of, she said of course the woman could sue that guy's company. It was just another company not connected to the guy that she couldn't sue. But it's really typical of the kind of thing they've done over and over again.

And that, if they would treat her, and I think you will agree, that she's not an extremist, she is a mainstream conservative, if they would just let her through, and, and others like that, there would be no problem.

KONDRACKE: Well, I mean, the problem is, is, that any time the Democrats tried to filibuster and said something was an extraordinary, an extraordinary case, the Republicans would come roaring in with the nuclear option, that so, you know, it's difficult to calibrate this at this point, which is why it's so, it's, we're at loggerheads.

But in the case of Owen, I'm, I haven't read all the, all of her opinions, and I mean to. But, but on the basis of what I know, she is not an extremist. The somebody who gets elected with 84 percent of the vote in the state of Texas, where the trial lawyer lobby is very strong, you know, it, can't really be an extremist.

Furthermore, all the newspapers, the major newspapers in Texas endorsed her. Now, some of them, now that she's one of Bush's nominees for a federal judgeship are against her.

But at the time, when she was up for confirmation, or reelection, they all supported her. So she can't be that extreme.

Now, look, the, the way out of this, there is a way out of this other than what, what, what's, what we're facing right now, up or down, you know, one side winning or losing. That is that there is this a gang of 12 senators, six Democrats, six Republicans, who have been meeting and trying to work out a compromise, whereby there would be no filibusters, and there would be, except in extraordinary circumstances, which has to be defined, and that's a problem, and there would be no nuclear option.

They're, John McCain is, you know, heading it up. Ben Nelson (search) of Nebraska's heading it up. I'm for it.

BARNES: Well, yes, that would be fine, but it's not that simple of just saying no filibusters, no nuclear option. I mean, what this would do would, where we've had 41 filibusterers deciding what judges would get through, now we will get it onto 12 people deciding, well, let's see, this one will get through, but these others won't.

That is not democracy. That's not a step in the right direction.

You know, I have a pet peeve in this whole squabble over judges, and that is that somehow Republicans are the ones who started this, when, in fact, I don't think they did. What was started, and you touched on it, Mort, was by Democrats by Democrats breaking this 200-year tradition of not filibustering judges, by systematically picking out conservatives, the smartest ones, the ones who might wind up being nominated for the Supreme Court one day, and calling them kooks, as Senator Kennedy says, Neanderthals, and things like that.

That's what's done it. And now they claim, Democrats, and even you, that the Senate will never be the same again. It'll only not be the same again after the nuclear option if Democrats disrupt. Simple as that.

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