Mood Sour in Senate on Judicial Nominees

The weather outdoors is delightful in Washington, D.C., but little sign of a spring thaw can be seen inside the Capitol when it comes to confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees.

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist is trying to avoid the so-called "nuclear option," (search) saying he wanted to "stay above the partisanship and politics" in searching frantically for one last alternative to resolve the logjam over Bush judicial nominees — an effort that won't involve changing Senate rules to abolish Democratic filibusters (search).

"I think what Senator Frist has said, look, he wants to look himself in the mirror and say we tried everything we could to make sure that we preserve the precedent of the Senate," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

Frist and Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson are negotiating a plan to guarantee an up or down vote for the seven Bush nominees for whom Democrats have denied confirmation by requiring they receive a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority. Ten Bush nominees in all have been denied a full vote, and Democrats vow to use the filibuster again if they think a nominee is too conservative.

The Frist-Nelson plan would guarantee hearings and floor votes for all future presidents' judicial nominees, something Republicans denied to dozens of Bill Clinton's nominees.

Top Republicans say this will be Frist's "last, best offer" to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid

Reid immediately praised Frist for his remarks, seemingly interpreting the comments as a potential sign of retreat on the issue of changing Senate rules to end judicial filibusters. But he said Tuesday that a compromise appears out of reach.

"There's nothing on the table at this stage. And I repeat that I would do nothing that would hurt this institution that I understand historically for 217 years has worked pretty well," said Reid of Nevada.

Top Republicans told FOX News that the GOP is still smarting from what they perceive as massive public backlash against Republican-drafted legislation that ordered brain-damaged woman Terri Schiavo's (search) case to be reviewed by a federal court.

Sources said Frist and other top Republicans are annoyed at House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas for criticizing federal judges who ruled against intervening in Schiavo's case.

"We will be looking at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president," DeLay said after the courts ruled against Schiavo's family, who sought to keep Schiavo's feeding tube inserted against her husband's wishes.

On Monday, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn implied that recent violence against judges in Atlanta and Chicago may be linked to anger over judicial activism.

"I wonder whether there may be some connection on the perception in some quarters on some occasions when judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence," Cornyn said.

On Tuesday, Reid blasted both DeLay and Cornyn.

"If they don't get what they want, they attack whoever is around. Now, they're after the courts. And I just think that it goes back to this arrogancy of power," Reid said.

But Reid said Republicans have grown so politically arrogant that they feel free to attack the federal judiciary. Frist said he respected the court's rulings in the Schiavo case, and it was up to DeLay to defend himself.

Cornyn did just that, saying his remarks had nothing to do with the Schiavo case or with what DeLay said.

"I'm a former judge myself and I've made clear that attacks against judges are never justified," said Cornyn, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.