Filibuster Compromise Sets the Stage for 2008 Elections

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," May 25, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We have reached an agreement to try to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice that would have had, in the view of all 14 of us, lasting impact, damaging impact on the institution.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I and our leadership did not endorse this agreement by the 14. It stopped short of guaranteeing these nominees an up-or-down vote.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Same deal, two quite different views. But those two senators, McCain and Frist, have one thing in common. They would both like to be president, and there can be little doubt that presidential politics affected this whole issue.

Republicans Senators Hagel and George Allen also have an eye on the White House. But if you doubt this issue is reverberating this early on, the '08 trail, then listen, please, to my old friend, David Yepsen, columnist and veteran political reporter of the Des Moines Register who joins me now from out there in Iowa.

David, what were you seeing out there before, during, and after this deal was reached?

DAVID YEPSEN, DES MOINES REGISTER: I think the religious conservatives, many of the Republican Party's most strongest supporters, the party activists, are furious about this compromise. They are angry with John McCain.

They made it very clear, Brit, before this vote was taken -- there was a group of them that sent a letter a week ago to potential presidential candidates, saying that they expected these nominees to get an up-or-down vote. They did not happen. That's not going to happen.

And the immediate reaction is they're very angry. Now, it's a long way between now and 2008. Things could change after a fight over a Supreme Court nomination, but right now, Brit, the short answer to your question is, I think, Bill Frist has been hurt by this. I think John McCain has been. And I think Lindsey Graham. Any of the Republican presidential possibilities who did not side with their party on this are in trouble.

HUME: That would mean that things are -- well, Frist, of course, wanted more than the deal provided. So of course, did George Allen. Chuck Hagel, who, I think you'll agree with me, David, was somebody that we all probably expected would be right in the middle of the compromise group, wasn't and then denounced the deal. What did you make of that, by the way?

YEPSEN: Well, maybe trying to have a little bit of -- have it both ways. I think Senator Hagel got the message pretty clear. I mean, if he wants to be president, there's no way for him to get there without going through Iowa. Senator McCain has bypassed this state's caucuses before. There's a scenario where he could do that again, and say, "Well, I really -- I don't care to campaign there. I'm going to go to New Hampshire," although that strategy wasn't particularly profitable for him in 2000.

So no, I think Senator Hagel saw, what with scenario here in Iowa, was not going to be good for him if he went along with this compromise.

HUME: It does seem at least possible that the two judges who were specifically excluded from the terms of the deal, who are Myers and Henry Saad, that Bill Frist and the Senate Republican leadership may try to get votes on them anyway and fight for them. Would that, in the eyes of the Iowans you've been talking to, make a difference?

YEPSEN: I think it could, Brit. I mean, that's why I say the initial -- there's time for more things to happen to change this scenario. I mean, Senator Frist is getting some criticism for not being, quote, unquote, "a good leader." They thought he should be able to hold his troops in line, although it certainly, to many of us, looks like he tried very hard to do it, to do that.

If he is seen as continuing to try, if he pushes hard for nominees and still loses, then I think his stock will go up with some of these conservatives.

HUME: Who at the moment appears, in your estimation, to have the upper hand among the conservatives who always dominate these nominating processes?

YEPSEN: Well, there are different groups, Brit. There's the Christian Coalition. There's the right-to-life community, the Family Policy Council. And then there are economic conservatives who also weighed in on this letter, as well, saying they wanted an up-or-down vote.

So all of these groups are very important inside the Republican Party of Iowa. It's not a general election. It's not even a primary. These are the most activist people in a political party who show up on caucus night. And a lot of these, particularly the social conservatives in all of these groups, are very unhappy.

HUME: Is there anybody that seems to you to be in a stronger position as a result of this, or seems to you to be -- I know it's early, and I concede that -- but a possible early favorite?

YEPSEN: No, I really don't think so, Brit. I think it's really wide open. And we're starting to see some of the early stirrings out here. But it's just too early for me to give you a good answer to that. I just don't think anybody has emerged as an early favorite among Republicans.

HUME: And your sense is that the one thing that could rehabilitate any or all of them if they were involved in a successful fight for a conservative Supreme Court nominee?

YEPSEN: Well, that's the big fight. I mean, this could look like a sideshow and an afterthought...

HUME: Got you.

YEPSEN: ... if the country goes to that.

HUME: David, it's always a pleasure to have you. Thanks for doing this. All the best.

YEPSEN: Thanks, Brit.

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