We’re getting conflicting signals on whether Senate Republicans have the votes to do away with the filibusters over President Bush’s judicial nominees by changing the number of votes required to cut-off debate. Hugh Hewitt, cites a Wall Street Journal piece (subscription required) speculating that a seventh Senator (John Sununu) has “gone wobbly” on this issue. Others reportedly wobbling are Senators Warner, Collins, Snowe, Chafee, McCain, and Hagel.
On the other hand, Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO’s Corner had this to say earlier today:
I’m hearing that Republicans now have at least 50 votes to change the rules–which means at least 51 if you add Cheney. Senator Byrd’s hysteria helped pad the total. And if Michael Crowley’s reporting in the New Republic is correct–and I have no reason to think it isn’t–the Democrats have no idea what to do about it. Senate Democrats have vowed to shut down the Senate if Republicans end judicial filibusters. But the Democrats don’t want to be accused of shutting down the government or hindering national security, there aren’t many Republican agenda items that they can block any more effectively than they already are blocking them, and Democrats want to get pork passed just as much as Republicans do. Crowley’s conclusion: An “increasing number [of Democrats] are desperately hoping that Frist’s bomb never detonates.” So while the Republicans are almost guaranteed to get very bad press for ending the judicial filibuster, it’s not clear whether they’ll face serious retaliation from the Democrats.
Even if Ponnuru is misinformed, with the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice looming, several of the wobblers almost surely will eventually bite the bullet and support their party. If Frist can’t get their votes when the issue is 10 court of appeals judges, he will get some of them when the issue is a Supreme Court nominee, assuming President Bush selects wisely (by which I mean someone well qualified and with no skeletons, whom the Democrats will be compelled to filibuster in order to appease the special interest groups). It’s hard to imagine Sununu, McCain, and Hagel allowing the Democrats to deny Bush his right to get an up-or-down vote on a Supreme Court nominee, especially his first in two terms.
The Democrats are playing for time though, hoping to get to 2007, while picking up a few seats in 2006. Under that scenario, picking up two or three Republicans might not be enough. Thus, conservatives need to push to end the filibusters as soon as possible.