If Senate minority leader Harry Reid is spooked by Republican threats to curb the mighty filibuster in order to get President Bush's judges appointed to the bench, he isn't showing it. In a private meeting last week with Reid, majority leader Bill Frist said he wanted a compromise over seven judges whom the President renominated in February and whom Democrats are threatening to filibuster. Reid told TIME Frist didn't give details, but said he would postpone a G.O.P. move to eliminate judicial filibusters until mid-May at the earliest while he works on a deal. Reid's response? Up the stakes.
The Nevada Democrat said that while he welcomed talk of a compromise, he was considering expanding the filibuster threat to include Bush's pick to be U.N. Ambassador, John Bolton, whose confirmation hearings begin this week. "We might filibuster him," Reid told TIME. And he added another name to the list of those who might be talked to death: Stephen Johnson, whose nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency has drawn fire from California Senator Barbara Boxer over a pesticide-testing program involving children.
Reid may be bluffing, and his hardball tactics risk fueling Republican charges that Democrats are obstructionists. But he seems to be playing a stronger hand than his G.O.P. rival. By Friday, Johnson had killed the controversial pesticide program. Frist's party, meanwhile, is showing internal signs of strain. Senate Republicans whispered once more last week that they might not back Bush's plan to create personal accounts as part of his Social Security reform. (Bush aides say he will try to shore up support this week with more details on his plan.) And conservatives were demanding a battle on the judicial nominations right now. "The sooner the better," says a G.O.P. aide. In case Frist, who insiders say has his eye on the White House, didn't get the message, the aide added, "If he's serious about running for President, then this is a crucial issue." --By Massimo Calabresi. With reporting by Perry Bacon Jr. and John F. Dickerson