This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."
The nuclear option is a parliamentary rule which "relates to the possiblity that Vice President Cheney will make a 'ruling from the chair' with regard to changing the cloture rule reducing the now required 60 votes to end a filibuster to a simple majority." In effect, the "nuclear option" could be used to end any debate on the Senate floor. 
- "Any judicial nominee willing to sacrifice the constitution and the traditions and rules of the U.S. Senate in order to be confirmed is unqualified for the bench." --Glenn Smith, DriveDemocracy.org, May 18, 2005.
A bipartisan group of fourteen senators, seven Democrats and seven Republicans, reached an agreement on May 23, 2005, that "three nominees for appellate courts stalled by Democratic filibusters will go forward and two others will remain subject to filibuster. ... Under the deal, the senators will allow three of Bush's controversial nominees to come to a vote: Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor." 
"The group's members also agreed that they would oppose attempts to filibuster future judicial nominees except under 'extraordinary circumstances'," which were not explained. 
The group of fourteen were:
- Democrats: Robert Byrd (West Virginia), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Joseph I. Lieberman (Connecticut), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Mark Pryor (Arkansas), and Ken Salazar (Colorado).
- Republicans: Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike DeWine (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), John McCain (Arizona), John Warner (Virginia), and Olympia Snowe (Maine).
Compromise: Strategic "Success"
The Washington Post reported May 24, 2005, that "Every Monday morning for months, veteran Washington lawyer C. Boyden Gray has plotted strategy via a conference call with the heads of groups that want to ease the confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees. He has also spent many hours raising millions of dollars for the cause. ... The eccentric Gray stood at the center of what had threatened to become a historic confrontation between the political parties." 
In a May 23, 2005, press release, Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI) said: "This is not a good deal for the U.S. Senate or for the American people. Democrats should have stood together firmly against the bullying tactics of the Republican leadership abusing their power as they control both houses of Congress and the White House. Confirming unacceptable judicial nominations is simply a green light for the Bush administration to send more nominees who lack the judicial temperament or record to serve in these lifetime positions. I value the many traditions of the Senate, including the tradition of bipartisanship to forge consensus. I do not, however, value threatening to disregard an important Senate tradition, like occasional unlimited debate, when necessary. I respect all my colleagues very much who thought to end this playground squabble over judges, but I am disappointed in this deal." 
"Nuclear" vs "Constitutional"
- Anthony Hecht of Slapnose wrote April 25, 2005, in his article "Bamboozled" that
- The Republican noise machine has so successfully muddied the waters on this that now some people are referring to what the Democrats would do in response to the nuclear option as "the nuclear option."
- It's really sad when every media outlet from coast to coast just picks up this garbage without question. The Republicans invented the term, they're the ones threatening to "go nuclear," but now this violent, destructive imagery has been successfully pinned entirely on the opposition. It's a magnificent lie. Conservatives did some polls, discovered that the term elicited a negative response, so they switched to "the constitutional option." In a world that made any sense, a move so pathetically transparent would be highlighted by the media. But this is not that world. 
- "As several weblogs have noted, the term nuclear option -- referring to the Republican-proposed Senate rule change that would prohibit filibusters of judicial nominations -- was coined by one of its leading advocates, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS). But since Republican strategists judged the term nuclear option to be a liability, they have urged Senate Republicans to adopt the term constitutional option. Many in the media have complied with the Senate Republicans' shift in terminology and repeated their attribution of the term nuclear option to the Democrats." Media Matters for America.
- Follow Josh Marshall's tracking at Talking Points Memo.
Clinton Era = Constitutional "Checks and Balances"
- "...the Senate is a -- is not a majoritarian institution like the House of Representatives is. It is a deliberative body and it's got a number of checks and balances built into our government. This is one of those checks, in which a majority cannot just sheerly force its will, even if they have a majority of votes in some cases, that's why there are things like filibusters and other things that give minorities in the Senate some power to slow things up, to hold things up, and let things be aired properly."
- Source: People for the American Way "writes that in 1998, then-Senior FRC Writer and Analyst Steven Schwalm, appearing on NPR’s 'Talk of the Nation' had this to say about the filibuster against James Hormel, President Clinton’s ambassadorial nominee."
... and the Family Research Council's Filibuster "Flip-Flop"
"MSNBC host Keith Olbermann noted that the Family Research Council (FRC), which is currently campaigning to stop filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees by Senate Democrats, was quite vocal in the late 1990s in defending the right to filibuster another presidential nominee, James C. Hormel, who was nominated by President Clinton as ambassador to Luxembourg." Source: Media Matters for America, April 26, 2005.
How the "Option" Might Work
- "A scenario for an unspecified day in 2005: One of President Bush's judicial nominations is brought to the Senate floor. Majority Leader Bill Frist makes a point of order that only a simple majority is needed for confirmation. The point is upheld by the presiding officer, Vice President Dick Cheney. Democratic Leader Harry Reid challenges the ruling. Frist moves to table Reid's motion, ending debate. The motion is tabled, and the Senate proceeds to confirm the judicial nominee -- all in about 10 minutes."
High-risk Strategy, Possible Blowback
"A looming power play by Senate Republican leaders to clamp down on filibusters against judicial nominees is a high-risk strategy. It could change the balance of power in the Senate, erode the rights of the minority party and backfire against Republicans in the long term.
"The Senate is 'not always going to be Republican,' former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential candidate, is reminding fellow Republicans. 'Think down the road,' he advises. ..."
"'Someday there will be a liberal Democrat president and a liberal Democrat Congress,' Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told MSNBC last week. 'Do we want a bunch of liberal judges approved by the Senate of the United States with 51 votes if Democrats are in the majority?'" New York Times, April 18, 2005.
Putting on the Brakes
The Hill reported April 21, 2005, that "Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a leading advocate of the 'nuclear option' to end the Democrats’ filibuster of judicial nominees, is privately arguing for a delay in the face of adverse internal party polls."
Although Republicans are usually willing to release polling numbers that favor the party, current polling numbers details "remain under wraps," as "Santorum and other Senate sources concede that, while a majority of Americans oppose the filibuster, the figures show that most also accept the Democratic message that Republicans are trying to destroy the tradition of debate in the Senate." 
Related SourceWatch Resources
- Bush's judicial nominees
- Justice Sunday
- The Bush Theocracy
- The Courts: Shifting the Judiciary to the Right ... for Big Business
Compilations & Analysis
Articles & Commentary
- "The ‘Nuclear Option’," Center for Individual Freedom, October 23, 2003.
- Alexander Bolton, "Frist finger on ‘nuclear’ button," The Hill, May 13, 2004.
- Manuel A. Miranda, "Fighting Filibusters. Frist shouldn’t use the nuclear option wantonly," The National Review, May 13, 2004.
- "Bill Frist's 'nuclear option'," Salon, December 13, 2004.
- Helen Dewar and Mike Allen, "GOP May Target Use of Filibuster. Senate Democrats Want To Retain the Right to Block Judicial Nominees," Washington Post, December 13, 2004.
- Chuck Lindell, "Senate GOP Set to Go 'Nuclear' Over Judges," Cox News Services, November 28, 2004.
- Robert Byrd, "'Nuking' Free Speech," Washington Post, March 3, 2005.
- Jeffrey Toobin, "Blowing Up the Senate. Will Bush’s judicial nominees win with the 'nuclear option'?", The New Yorker, March 7, 2005.
- Charles Hurt, "Support falters for the 'nuclear option'," Washington Times, March 25, 2005.
- Deborah C. England, "The Nuclear Option. Changing Senate rules on filibusters would be bad policy -- and bad law," law.com, March 28, 2005.
- "Bob Dole warns Senate GOP on moving forward with Nuclear Option," BuzzFlash News Alert, April 12, 2005.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "As Vote on Filibuster Nears, G.O.P. Senators Face Mounting Pressure," New York Times, April 20, 2005.
- Alexander Bolton, "Santorum reads nuke polls, applies the brakes," The Hill, April 21, 2005.
- Editorial: "Nuking the filibuster/GOP arguments fail smell test," Star Tribune, April 24, 2005.
- "Media adopts false claim that 'nuclear option' is a Democratic term," Media Matters for America, April 25, 2005.
- Judy Keen, "Rove: Bolton will be confirmed; judges deserve vote," USA Today, April 26, 2005: "Karl Rove rejected a compromise with Senate Democrats Monday on long-stalled nominations for the federal judiciary and strongly defended President Bush's choice of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations."
- Tim Grieve, "Rove spins, falsely, on nuclear compromise," Salon, April 26, 2005.
- "Olbermann uncovers Family Research Council filibuster flip-flop," Media Matters for America, April 26, 2005.
- Jesse J. Holland, "Frist Rejects Deals in Filibuster Fight,", Assocated Press, April 27, 2005.
- Kathy Kiely, "Frist: Showdown with Democrats over court nominees may be 'inevitable'," USA Today, May 1, 2005.
- Op-Ed: "A No-Compromise Compromise," New York Times, May 3, 2005: "The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, wants Senate Democrats to accept a deal that would strip away their role in approving the most important federal judicial nominees. His proposal is an assault on checks and balances, and a power grab. Democrats should not go along."
- Alexander Bolton, "Frist begins to squeeze the trigger," The Hill, May 4, 2005: Eric Ueland, Frist's chief of staff, says that "Frist will soon trigger the so-called “nuclear option” to end threatened Democratic filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees this month. ... But social conservatives are anticipating from conversations with Frist’s staff that the controversial move will take place next week and are predicting a conservative backlash if Senate Republicans delay any longer."
- Carl Hulse, "Filibuster Fight Nears Showdown," New York Times, May 8, 2005.
- Shailagh Murray, "Filibuster Fray Lifts Profile of Minister. Scarborough Has Network and Allies," Washington Post, May 8, 2005.
- John Heilprin, "Hagel Hopes for Compromise on Filibusters," Associated Press, May 9, 2005.
- Devlin Barrett, "Schumer Urges Bush to Rein in Judge Fight," Associated Press, May 9, 2005.
- Tim Abbott, "Babylon in exile," roanoke.com, May 10, 2005.
- David Podvin, "Nuclear Option," Make Them Accountable, May 10, 2005.
- "No Need To Go Nuclear," New Dem Dispatch, May 17, 2005: "A clear Democratic willingness to be reasonable on judges will not only defuse this contrived crisis, but will also force Republicans to either live up to their responsibilities as a governing party or expose the power of extremists in their ranks."
- Alexander Bolton, "Bush, Frist split on judges," The Hill, May 18, 2005.
- "Bush, GOP Seek to Reinvent Reality," Yahoo! News, May 18, 2005: "Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Thursday that President Bush and Republican senators are trying to 'rewrite the Constitution and reinvent reality' in their push to confirm controversial judicial nominees."
- Robert S. Rivkin, "Bush's Judges: Stacking the Deck for the Next 40 Years," Pacific News Service, May 18, 2005.
- Glenn Smith, "Nuclear Winter," DriveDemocracy.org, May 18, 2005.
- "The F..k History Option," The Rude Pundit, May 19, 2005. Warning: Contains offensive language.
- DavidNYC, "GOP Blocked Judicial Nominees While in Minority," Daily Kos, May 20, 2005.
- "Debunker: The nuclear option. The whole act is a farce," Polianna, May 22, 2005.
- Jackie Kucinich, "The seven nominees at the controversy's core," The Hill, May 24, 2005.
- Text of the Compromise posted by New York Times and FilibusterFrist.com (students at Princeton University), with a pdf copy of the Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Nominations at the Daily Kos.
- David Espo, "Senators Said to Reach Filibuster Deal," AP, May 23, 2005. An early synopsis of the deal.
- John McCain, Breaking: "Senators Strike Filibuster Deal," Think Progress, May 23, 2005.
- "Blog Round-up of Reactions to the Compromise. Bill Frist tries to save Face / Freepers are crazed! Not everyone agrees," Crooks and Liars blog updated throughout night of May 23, 2005, with blog and media reactions to the compromise.
- Press Release: "U.S. Sen. Feingold: Statement On Tonight's Decision Regarding Judicial Nominees," WisPolitics.com, May 23, 2005.
- Joe Gandelman, "Senate Moderates Avert Polarizing Filibuster Showdown," The Moderate Voice, May 23, 2005. Includes numerous links and comments.
- A group of 14 "Senators compromise on filibusters. Bipartisan group agrees to vote to end debate on 3 nominees," CNN, May 23, 2005.
- "The Neutron Bomb Option," MaxSpeak, May 23, 2005: "... from what I can see this Senate deal looks like a giant steaming pile of monkey crap. As far as I can tell, we get the three wingnuts that everybody has been talking about -- Pryor, Brown, and Owens -- and maybe not two other nitwits. There seems to be no bar to squashing any future filibuster effort. Supposedly a filibuster might be permissable under 'extraordinary' circumstances. That means not very many times, and there could be quite a few judgeships to fill with the deep bench of loonies on the Right."
- Geoff Earle, "Deal heads off nuclear option," The Hill, May 24, 2005.
- "Deal Reached to Avert Judicial Showdown," Fox News, May 24, 2005.
- Carl Hulse, "Bipartisan Agreement in Senate Averts a Showdown on Judges," New York Times, May 24, 2005.
- Charles Babington and Shailagh Murray, "A Last-Minute Deal on Judicial Nominees. Senators Agree On Votes for 3; 2 Could Still Face Filibusters," Washington Post, May 24, 2005.
- Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, "A Moving Force In Fight for Bush's Judicial Nominees," Washington Post, May 24, 2005.
- William Branigan, "Senate Votes to End Debate on Owen. Deal Last Night Paves Way to End Impasse on Controversial Judicial Nominee," Washinton Post, May 24, 2005.
- Richard W. Stevenson, "A Modest Victory for Bush, but Challenging Tests Lie Ahead," New York Times, May 24, 2005.
- Dan Balz, "Breakthrough Pact Unlikely To End Battle," Washington Post, May 24, 2005.
- "Why DeWine Is Wrong," Think Progress, May 24, 2005.
- Jonathan Weller, "Nuclear Stand-down," The Gadflyer, May 24, 2005.
- David Corn, "The No-Nuke Deal," The Nation, May 24, 2005.
- "Not Quite the Day After," The Rude Pundit, May 24, 2005. Warning: May contain offensive language.
- Richard Simon and Mary Curtis, "Conservative Groups Accuse Senators of Sellout. Activists are outraged by a deal that doesn't guarantee up-or-down votes on all nominees," Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2005.
- Jeffrey Feldman, "The Folly of 'Up or Down' Politics," Frameshop, May 24, 2005: "The compromise over judicial nominations in the Senate does little to challenge the misleading way the GOP has framed the debate."
- Patrick Nielsen Hayden, "The Deal," Making Light, May 24, 2005. Be sure to scroll down the page through the feedback and comments for excellent analysis of "the deal."
- Carl Hulse, "Many Republicans Are Already Eager to Challenge Agreement on Filibusters," New York Times, May 25, 2005.
- Jack Dalton, "The great power grab and all for the 'good' of the people," The Smirking Chimp, May 25, 2005.
- Robert Kuttner, "Bush and Frist got what they wanted," Boston Globe, May 25, 2005: "Faced with bad publicity for this show of crude force, several Republicans looked for a face-saver that would still preserve the substantive result -- confirmation of extremist nominees. They and Frist won. This was no mutiny against the Senate leader; it was merely a change of tactic."
- Kevin Drum, "Filibuster Roundup," Washington Monthly, May 25, 2005.