Chattanooga Times Free Press - Andy Sher
Two U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday credited a Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, with the idea that prevented a showdown on the floor this week over the president’s judicial nominees.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., one of seven Democrats who joined with seven Republicans to strike a compromise on Monday, said the concept of senators on each side meeting to reach an agreement "originated" with Sen. Alexander. Another negotiator, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.,D - Ark DArk., said a speech by Sen. Alexander got him involved in trying to reach common ground with Republicans.
In recent months, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, RTenn., had threatened to ban judicial filibusters through a Senate rules change called the nuclear option. Sen. Pryor said he was concerned about the nuclear option but "didn’t have a solution until I heard Lamar Alexander make that speech."
"When he did, that’s when I started" on a compromise, Sen. Pryor said.
During floor speeches on March 9 and April 12, Sen. Alexander said that if a few senators from both parties would pledge to allow up-or-down votes on all judicial nominees "then there would be an end to the discussion of the nuclear option."
On Tuesday, Sen. Alexander said he stood on the floor then and said he had a way "to stop this train wreck."
"I’ve already said I’ll never filibuster (a Democratic president’s judicial nominees)," he recalled. "So if six of my friends on the other side will say the same thing, I’ll go get five Republicans. There can’t be a filibuster, and there’d be no need to change the rules. Nobody said anything, so I said it again. And Mark Pryor talked to me about it."
Sen. Alexander said "various senators began to work on some framework of six and six."
"The thought was it’d keep the caucuses from butting in because a dozen senators using their individual rights could make the decision," Sen. Alexander said Tuesday.
But while he served as an inspiration for compromise, Sen. Alexander said he dropped out of discussions.
"They kept all kinds of exceptions and qualifying phrases in it, so I couldn’t participate," Sen. Alexander said. "I said, ‘No filibusters ; no exceptions.’ That may be how it started, but I wasn’t involved in the discussions at the last minute."
Sen. Alexander also did not sign the 14-senator agreement.
Earlier in the day, Sen. Frist said the agreement "makes modest progress" on nominations "but falls far short of guaranteeing up-or-down votes on judicial nominees."
"It needs to be carefully monitored and executed in good faith," he said.
Sixty votes are required to stop a filibuster in the 100-member Senate. Republicans, who have 55 members, would have been able to ban judicial filibusters with just 51 votes through a change of Senate rules.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had threatened to stall most other Senate business if Republicans pushed the rules change through.
Under the deal announced Monday, Democrats agreed to stop blocking three appellate nominees and allow them to come to the floor for a vote. However, they can continue to filibuster under "extraordinary circumstances."
In exchange, the seven Republicans agreed not to support Sen. Frist on the nuclear option.