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Hatch Hopes for Compromise on Bush Nominees

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The partisan fight over President Bush's judicial nominees entered a second day in the Senate. Lawmakers again offered sharp words. Here's Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): When Americans first heard the term `nuclear option,' they kind of recoiled, appropriately. They were confident that dismantling the filibuster and silencing the minority would have as catastrophic an effect on our democracy as a nuclear blast would on our security.

NORRIS: Beyond the cross fire on the Senate floor, a group of senators from both parties met behind closed doors, trying to hammer out a compromise. They want to avoid a showdown over the use of the filibuster. Yesterday we spoke with one of those negotiators, Senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas. Earlier today we spoke with a Republican, Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee and its former chairman.

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah; Judiciary Committee): Well, I would be willing to compromise this matter as long as everybody gets a vote. You know, what's wrong with having majority supported--bipartisan majority-supported people who come to the floor having a vote up and down? And I think both parties should be bound that once a person reaches the floor, they get a vote up and down.

NORRIS: Now you've also favored a vote up or down on the rule change. Now do you think that that should actually precede the vote on the nominees?

Sen. HATCH: Well, it depends. If we cannot resolve this with the Democrats, if they're just going to continue to say they're going to filibuster no matter what, I think we should bind both Democrats and Republicans that presidential nominees for the judiciary deserve an up-and-down vote once they reach the floor, not just Democrats but Republicans as well. And that's what the constitutional option would do. Now if the 12 Republicans and Democrats who are trying to settle this thing can come up with a way of making sure that these people get votes and they still want to preserve the filibuster, I mean, I could live with that, even though I do not believe that the filibuster is appropriate for executive-calendar nominees, especially the judicial nominees.

NORRIS: Now, Senator, as we've said, there is an intense backroom effort to work out a compromise. Have you been in touch with the six Republican senators that are involved...

Sen. HATCH: I've been...

NORRIS: ...in that process, and do you like what you hear?

Sen. HATCH: I've been in touch with both the Democrats--some of the Democrats and the Republicans, and personally I believe we ought to resolve this issue now. We ought to have the constitutional option, which would bind both Democrats and Republicans to treat judicial nominations and to treat presidents with respect by having a vote up and down once they reach the floor. But if a compromise can be reached, I can live with whatever it is that the Senate decides to do. But I think it's a mistake to not resolve this problem now, so that both Republicans and Democrats will be bound to give whoever is president a fair shake when their--that president's nominees come to the floor.

NORRIS: Well, if we're talking compromise, where's the room for give and take?

Sen. HATCH: Well, I believe that if the 12 Republicans and Democrats come to a conclusion that every one of these seven people deserve a vote up and down, but the filibuster will be preserved, I could live with that. On the other hand, I think it's a mistake, but I could live with it because it would have been--it would be what would decide this issue for this time. But I think sooner or later if this type of inappropriate conduct continues by Democrats, then I think we're going to have to go to the constitutional option. And, you know, if Democrats don't like these people, vote against them, but they should not be playing this filibuster game, which is a very, very dangerous thing to do. What it means is that really outstanding people, who do have backgrounds, who have written articles, who are leaders in the field--they're not even going to want to take these positions because of the arduous, difficult, sometimes bitter and even dirty process that occurs up here. And...

NORRIS: Well, look forward for me, if you could, now.

Sen. HATCH: Sure.

NORRIS: What are the chances of a showdown being averted, that we might not see...

Sen. HATCH: Well, I don't know. I chatted with...

NORRIS: ...the nuclear option detonated?

Sen. HATCH: I chatted with Senator Nelson last night, and we're very close friends, and I think a lot of him, and he thinks that the 12 people can put this together. But there's a lot of criticism of that because I personally and a lot of others don't want 12 senators determining for any president who's going to get a fair vote up and down and who isn't. I'd like to have this resolved so that not only Democrats are bound to give a vote once they hit the floor up and down, but Republicans are bound, too. If they get the presidency in the future, we would be bound as well. And we'd get rid of these filibusters that make being president a nightmare.

NORRIS: Senator, thanks so much for talking to us.

Sen. HATCH: Well, it's great to chat with you.

NORRIS: Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah is a member of the Judiciary Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.