Senate Begins All-Night Debate on Judges
JESSE J. HOLLAND
Nov. 13, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate made at least one new fan with its all-night talkathon on President Bush's blocked judicial nominees: 11-year-old Nick Taylor of Charlottesville, Va.
Instead of being at home in bed, Nick and his family waited out in the rain Wednesday night to get inside the Capitol to watch the extraordinary overnight session. Nick didn't mind, though. ``That's one of the reasons why I came, we get to stay up late,'' he said happily.
With a 30-hour marathon session, the Senate turned the Capitol into insomniac central into the wee hours Thursday as senators went throughout the night arguing the merits and drawbacks of Democrats blocking some of President Bush's judicial nominees.
With their cots and coffee set up near the Senate chamber, senators made clear they were willing to talk themselves hoarse through the night to make their points on the judicial nomination process.
``Frankly, there would not be much else going on here at 11:15 at night in the United States Senate, so we wanted to raise this issue and bring the message to people across America so they can tell the people who are obstructing, 'OK, think about it,''' said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, at a Republican rally just off the floor of the Senate.
But those who expected scintillating debate were disappointed, as the marathon turned into a legislative pillowfight among colleagues. Instead of questioning and challenging each other, Republicans talked for 30 minutes, and then Democrats talked for 30 minutes, over and over. The plan was for each side to get 15 hours of the 30-hour ``debate.''
Republicans scheduled the talkathon _ called ``Justice for Judges'' _ in hopes of rallying Americans against Democrats, who have blocked four U.S. Appeals Court nominees so far: Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, Texas judge Priscilla Owen, Mississippi judge Charles Pickering and lawyer Miguel Estrada. Others, including California judges Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown, are expected to be blocked by Democrats as well.
Frustrated at the delays, Estrada withdrew his nomination in September.
But Democrats also are rallying their supporters, and plan to criticize Republicans for using two legislative days to talk about judicial nominees instead of finishing bills revamping Medicare and energy policy, plus eight overdue spending bills, in time to adjourn by Nov. 21.
``I'm not participating in this, this marathon, talkathon, blameathon, whatever you want to call this. I'm not interested in that right now. I'm interested in the appropriations bill,'' said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who ironically is the owner of the No. 8 spot on the list of longest Senate speeches at 14 hours and 13 minutes. That was long ago against a civil rights bill.
The Democrats named their half of the talkathon ``Justice for the Jobless'' and criticized Bush and the GOP on the economy and the president's conservative nominees.
``Thirty hours on judges?'' said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., at the Democrats' late-night rally. ``There are 13 million hungry children in America tonight but Republicans don't have time to debate that.''
Republicans and Democrats _ entering the winter fund-raising season _ want to draw attention to the blockades, with the GOP having failed multiple times to get the 60 votes to force a vote on the confirmations in a Senate split with 51 GOP senators, 48 Democrats and one independent. It takes only a bare majority in the 100-member Senate to confirm a judge, but 60 votes to force a vote if there are objections.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has scheduled more votes on Friday for Brown, Kuhl and Owen, but the GOP has yet to win one of these votes this year.
The debate was scheduled to end at midnight Thursday, with at least one senator from each party having been on the Senate floor since 6 p.m. Wednesday.
There were more spectators in the Senate gallery than senators on the floor, with the Capitol staying open throughout the night to accommodate the Senate talkathon. Some people, like 21-year old Kiersten Murray, found the sometimes rambling, sometime desk-pounding speeches fascinating.
``This is totally the way to spend a Wednesday night,'' she said ``It's history. I've never seen one and who knows when the next will be to see another one. It's not they do this every Wednesday night.''