Monday, May 16, 2005

DC Prognosticates on the "Byrd" Option

A tip o' the cover to Sen. Mitch McConnell for relentlessly referring to the so-called "nuclear" option as the "Byrd Option" yesterday on the Sunday shows. Very nice touch, given the ol' Kleagle's penchant for changing Senate rules. Classic.

So, with the caveat that I am not a prognosticator, I do have some thoughts based upon my observations of statements made by both Democrats and Republicans over the last two weeks, along with my own interaction with the staffs of the various senators.

Here is how I see the overall vote coming down: The Republicans will be able to change the Senate rules to eliminate filibustering of judicial nominees. It may be that Democrats will actually do something smart and vote to stop a filibuster this week (i.e., on either Justice Brown or Justice Owen), but I see this as a less-likely scenario than Republicans actually giving the Demos the "Byrd".

A quick recap of some of the uncertain votes: According to Confirm Them, Sens. Chaffee, Snowe, and McCain's have stated intentions to vote with the Demos on the filibuster issue. Of course, both parties are firing shots across the bow in attempting to force a deal that would keep these very collegial senators from going to war. So, I take these assurances with a grain of salt. However, I do think that at least two of these will probably end up with the Demos. The one most likely to vote with the Republicans? McCain -- (D) Ariz. ... but I will believe it when I see it. Ol' John believes he is President now, and he probably still at least wants to entertain the idea of getting the voters to make it official in 2008. So ...

That leaves six other Republicans in play, according to Confirm Them. (Sen. Roberts, whom I had seen as on board, has released a statement today saying he will, if necessary, vote to end judicial filibusters.) The Demos need to get two of them to abandon the GOP ship to keep on filibusterin'. Here is how I see the remaining six, key senators:

Susan Collins of Maine: A toss-up. Seems conflicted. She looks to be the type that has a hard time ordering at Starbucks, much less deciding on this issue. Hard to say which way she will go, but I think in the end she will vote to end filibusters.

Mike Dewine of Ohio: One of the benefits of Sen. Voinovich's "principle" of last week on the Bolton committee vote is that Sen. Dewine can now show some good ol' midwestern common sense, and thus help Ohio avoid pariah status at the White House. And, oh yeah ... Ohio voted for Pres. Bush is a margin greater than Michigan and Pennsylvania went for Kerry. He will vote with the GOP.

Chuck Hagel of Nebraska: He wants to be McCain so bad ... he wants to be from a swing state so bad ... but he just can't. He will vote with the Republicans. God bless Nebraska.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: She's on the GOP team.

Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania: In the GOP column. He can use Scottish law, etc. on the floor to vote against Pres. Bush's nominees, like he opposed Judge Bork in 1987.

John Warner of Virginia: Sen. Warner is an old-line, "can't-we-just-get-along?" senator. I mean, we're all friends, right? And dignified? He desperately wants a compromise, but if pressed ... he is more hard-line about being reelected until he is about 100 years old. So, he's in the GOP column.

Thus, the Demos are at least one vote short. Probably two. But it gets worse for them, because I believe that there is one Democrat that we can look for to perhaps vote with the Republicans this week -- Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Look for Sen. Nelson to let down the Demos. Did I tell you that I love Nebraska?

In the end, what the Republicans are proposing (a guaranteed floor vote on the President's nominees) is a reasonable alternative that allows all Senators to vote their consciences on the nominations. No one has to vote to confirm a nominee that a particular senator opposes.

The dirty little secret here is that a lot of senators don't want to be forced to vote ... and have their views exposed to either their constituents or party leadership. Hence, the dedication to a fictitious version of "senate tradition".

There's a simple solution for that: Make 'em vote.