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US Senate Holds Marathon 30-Hour Debate on Judicial Nominations - 2003-11-12

The U.S. Senate is engaged in a 30-hour non-stop debate to highlight a long-standing partisan standoff over several of President Bush's judicial nominations.

Republican leaders scheduled the marathon session with the hope of raising public anger over Democrats' tactics aimed at blocking several of President Bush's judicial nominations from coming to a vote on the Senate floor.

"Senators are being denied the opportunity to give advice and consent to the president's nominees, because we are being denied by a minority in the United States Senate, to give an up or down vote," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. "It is simple as that."

Democrats say they are opposing only the most conservative nominees, and have approved many moderate candidates. In fact, Democrats note they have blocked just four Bush nominations, all named to the federal appeals court, while they have approved 168 others.

Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the chamber's top Democrat, says that is the point Democrats will underscore in the debate.

"They want to talk about the two percent, we'll be talking about the 98 percent of the jobs already provided to the nominees sent to us by the Bush administration," he said.

Senator Daschle calls the marathon session "a colossal waste of time." Another Democratic Senator, Harry Reid of Nevada, offered more colorful descriptions of the round-the-clock debate. "This sham, this scam, this circus, this carnival," he said.

As they prepared for the debate, Republican leaders rolled out cots for lawmakers who might need a nap during the long session.

In fact, Republicans say they hope to catch Democrats asleep, or off the Senate floor, so they can sneak in a vote approving the nominees.

Senator Daschle says that will not happen because Democrats have agreed that at least two members of their party will be in the chamber prepared to speak at any time.

The battle over judicial nominees highlights the tensions between Republicans and Democrats as they look ahead to next year's congressional and presidential elections.

The debate began at 23:00 UTC Wednesday and will end 30 hours later, stalling all legislative action during that time. Republicans and Democrats each have 15 hours to debate.

The Senate historian's office says it will be the longest non-stop debate in the chamber since a 30-hour, 41-minute session in 1994 on campaign finance reform.

Although Republicans currently hold the majority in the 100-member Senate with 51 seats, 60 votes are needed to end delaying tactics and move to a confirmation vote.