Alaska editorial: Senator is right to use caution in rule change

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2005

This editorial appeared in Wednesday's Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

What's so distasteful about trying to reach a compromise, about trying to work out a problem so as to avoid an outcome that will give immediate satisfaction to one group but that might cause long-term damage overall?


So it's difficult to support the latest element of the effort by the conservative group Progress for America to force a vote on at least two of the seven controversial appeals court nominees put forward by President Bush.

Alaska last week found itself among six states - Arkansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota and Rhode Island are the others - where Progress for America aired television advertisements over a two-week period urging an unobstructed vote on the nominees.

The group, along with many Senate Republicans, supports changing Senate rules so that judicial nominees cannot be subject to filibuster. That's because Democrats continue to oppose a handful of Bush's court selections and have promised to use the delaying tactic of the filibuster, which consists of continual speechifying that can only be shut off with 60 votes, a number that Republicans do not have.

Why run TV ads in Alaska? Progress for America doesn't like the fact that Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski hasn't eagerly signed on to the effort to disallow the filibuster of judicial nominees. She has not publicly stated how she would vote on the rule change.

Sen. Murkowski, who said she opposes use of the filibuster in such instances, seems to recognize that further discord might result from GOP enactment of what's been called the "nuclear option." She might also be thinking - perhaps like fellow Republican Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine might be thinking - that Democrats will one day regain control of the Senate and that a minority Republican Party will want to use the filibuster itself to block nominees of a Democratic president, whenever that eventuality occurs.

Progress for America isn't the first conservative group to be annoyed by Sen. Murkowski's moderate, restrained behavior in this debate. Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based conservative group headed by James Dobson, who one national columnist describes as "the nation's most influential political Christian," recently purchased newspaper and radio ads in Alaska warning that "Lisa Murkowski is likely to cooperate with Democrat plans to continue blocking qualified judicial nominees. Tell her to stop the obstruction."

That's doesn't seem accurate, however, given that Sen. Murkowski has stated her dislike at the use of the filibuster to block judicial nominees. It appears she only wants to ensure that all efforts at compromise with her Democratic colleagues have been exhausted before considering the dramatic step of changing Senate rules.

How can exercising a little care and patience be wrong?

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