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US Senate Deal Averts Showdown on Bush Nominees

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, makes a joke, as Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., right, and other senators laugh during a press conference announcing an agreement on judicial fillibusters
A group of Democratic and Republican senators has struck a deal aimed at averting a showdown over President Bush's judicial nominees.

Before the compromise was reached late Monday, Republican leaders were considering a Senate vote on whether to strip minority Democrats of the ability to block - or filibuster - President Bush's nominees to the federal bench.

Democrats described Republican leaders' plans as an effort to curb the power of the minority, and they threatened to use other procedural moves to slow the work of the Senate.

But under the compromise, reached by a group of 14 bipartisan senators, Republicans agreed not to ban the filibuster, while Democrats agreed to allow confirmation votes on three of five disputed nominees. Senators also vowed that the filibuster of judicial nominees would be used only in what they termed extraordinary circumstances.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who had been leading the effort to forge a compromise, sounded relieved when he announced the deal. "The Senate won and the country won," he said.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan welcomed the deal and said it was progress. But he vowed the president will push for a yes-or-no vote on all his judicial nominees.

The Senate deal comes a week after efforts to reach a compromise by the Senate Republican and Democratic leaders collapsed.

Republican supporters of banning the filibuster for judicial nominees and Democrats who argued in favor of keeping it as an important tool for the minority to keep a check on the power of the majority, were each under intense pressure from interest groups not to compromise.

Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat is one of the lawmakers who worked on the compromise. "We came together and did the unexpected. In a senate that has become increasingly partisan and polarized, the bipartisan center held," he said.

Under Senate rules, it takes 60 Senators in the 100-seat chamber to agree to end a filibuster, or extended debate. Republicans currently hold 55 seats.

Senate Republican leaders and President Bush had said all Mr. Bush's judicial nominees deserve a yes-or-no Senate vote.

Majority Leader Bill Frist said the compromise falls short of that principle, although he welcomed the agreement to have several nominees get votes on the Senate floor: "It has some good news and it has some disappointing news and it will require careful monitoring," he said.

The issue has assumed major political significance because of its importance to future Supreme Court nominations, with at least one retirement expected later this year.