WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats threatened yesterday to block nearly all business in the chamber if the Republican majority carries out a plan to unilaterally impose rule changes that ensure confirmation of President Bush's controversial judicial nominees.
The threat, issued by Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, sharply escalated a partisan controversy that now could put the brakes on an array of legislative business in the Senate, where Democrats used the threat of a filibuster to block votes on 10 appellate court nominees last year.
The showdown, which could come next month, looms because Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, reflecting the frustrations among most of his 54 Republican colleagues, has said he might seek to break the logjam over Bush's court appointments by abolishing the use of the filibuster to block nominations. Instead, he would force through a rule that enables a simple majority of 51 to bring the nominations to a vote.
Such a ploy is considered so politically explosive within the Senate that when it was first proposed in 2003, Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican and former majority leader, described it as the "nuclear option."
Reid and his fellow Democrats, in effect, called Frist's bluff yesterday by issuing a pre-emptive strike, saying that Democrats would respond to any Frist action by continuing to work with Republicans only on matters that affect U.S. troops or that ensure the continuity of government operations.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.