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COMPROMISE IN THE SENATE

Conservative Groups Accuse Senators of Sellout

Activists are outraged by a deal that doesn't guarantee up-or-down votes on all nominees.

May 24, 2005|Richard Simon And Mary Curtius | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Conservative groups that spent millions of dollars preparing for a Senate fight over use of the filibuster to block votes on President Bush's judicial nominees reacted with outrage Monday night at a compromise that averted the showdown.

Several furious conservative activists accused Republican senators who supported the compromise of selling out Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn), saying they wanted nothing short of guaranteed up-or-down votes on every judicial nominee.

"Unfortunately, 14 senators are allowed to speak for all of America, and they're able to pick and choose the nominees they find acceptable," said Lanier Swann, director of government relations for Concerned Women for America. She predicted that senators would face political fallout from both sides of the issue.

Under the agreement, reached between seven Democrats and seven Republicans, three of five judicial nominees that have been blocked by Democratic-led filibusters would get floor votes, while Democrats would retain the ability to use judicial filibusters under "extraordinary circumstances."

Republicans had scheduled a vote today to change Senate rules to block the use of filibusters on judicial nominees.

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman and founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, said he was sitting with several conservative senators and a dozen Republican House members at the Capitol Hill Club when they learned of the agreement.

"I tell you, you would have thought that the World Series had been forfeited for some dumb reason," Sheldon said. "They slapped their hands against their heads and cried out. They couldn't believe that this was the agreement."

Many activists believed the Republicans, who hold 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, were poised to win the filibuster struggle and clear the way for a succession of conservative nominees.

Of the seven Republicans who signed the compromise agreement, Sheldon said: "They didn't have the backbone and the fortitude to stand up for the fact that we are the majority."

James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, which had been lobbying GOP senators to hold firm, expressed his "disappointment, outrage and sense of abandonment."

Come election day, he said, "voters will remember both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust."

News of the agreement came as groups were preparing for a last-minute push in the Senate struggle.

Some liberal interest groups lobbied Democrats against making major concessions, but their reaction to the deal was tempered by their fears that they might lose the showdown.

People for the American Way called the compromise a "major defeat for the radical right" but expressed concern that it "could lead to confirmation of appeals court judges who would undermine Americans' rights and freedoms." Ralph G. Neas, the group's president, said the agreement "sends a clear and unmistakable message to Bush to consult with the Senate and send up a candidate who deserves bipartisan support" the next time he chooses a judicial nominee.

Neas said the group would continue to press for the defeat of some appellate court judges, but he said he believed that "there was enormous pressure within the Senate" to avoid another filibuster confrontation.

The Sierra Club, which has fought some of Bush's nominees because of their records on environmental issues, welcomed the agreement but said in a statement that the deal came "at a real price: It clears the path for possible confirmation of federal appeals courts nominees who would undermine Americans' protections under our laws and Constitution."

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