Washington In a psychological war of words, Senate Republicans are issuing only slightly veiled threats against their Democratic counterparts if the minority party resuscitates its penchant for blocking President Bush's choices for federal judgeships.
Learn from the election defeat of Minority Leader Tom Daschle, the Republicans say, contending it was Democratic "judicial obstructionism" that led to a variety of GOP victories and Daschle's downfall on Election Day. The not-so-subtle message: Let conservatives have their way when it comes to judicial picks, or you too will face the wrath of voters.
But Senate Democrats, though diminished by four, see no link between their losses and Bush's judicial nominees and plan to stand their ground. More filibusters should be expected if Bush tries to put someone too conservative on top courts. With Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist seriously ailing from thyroid cancer, Bush could make an appointment soon.
Based on raw numbers, Democrats still can make a filibuster stick, since it takes 60 votes to overcome one. The new Senate will have 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one Democrat-leaning independent. The GOP would have to persuade five Democrats to defect on a filibuster to break it.
During Bush's first term, Democrats successfully blocked 10 of his judicial nominees to U.S. Appeals Courts. At the same time, the Senate confirmed 203 of Bush's court appointments.
Not surprisingly, it's the 10 blocked nominations that peeve the GOP.
"I'm wondering if they have the heart to try it again," said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
Absolutely, says Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the most outspoken senators against what Democrats consider extremist right-wing judicial nominees.
"Everything stays the same, and the ball's in the president's court," said Schumer. "I don't see the Democrats backing down on this issue."