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Senators Avoid Slumber Party When Republicans End Estrada Debate Following Late-Night Votes

In the end, they didn’t need to roll out the cots for a Senate sleepover.

But Republicans forced a pair of post-midnight recorded votes early Thursday morning and held a round of late-night speeches that kept the chamber open until after 2 a.m., continuing their PR war against the filibuster of judicial nominee Miguel Estrada.

The votes were merely procedural in nature — not an actual vote on Estrada or cloture — but Republicans made them officially recorded tallies so that Senators who didn’t bother to attend would have their voting attendance records impacted, something some lawmakers pride themselves on.

[IMGCAP(1)] “I’ve gone on too long, and I think I’ll bring it to a close at this point. … The hour is, I guess I’d say late … it’s early in the morning now,” Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said at 2:05 a.m. as he read through newspaper editorials from around the country supporting a vote on Estrada, according to an unofficial transcript of the proceedings. “Depending on how you look at it, it’s either late or very early. I hope that my friends on the other side of the aisle will see things differently in the light of day tomorrow.”

That wasn’t the case, however, as Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) opened proceedings Thursday afternoon by maintaining that Democrats had no intention of allowing a vote on Estrada, and he encouraged Frist to move on to other issues.

“We’re not trying to delay in any way,” Reid said.

But Frist contended Thursday afternoon that Democrats were practicing an obstruction style of “justice delayed” and “justice denied.”

The procedural votes were designed to force Democrats to come into the chamber at a late hour, hoping to put pressure on them to yield and allow an up-or-down vote on Estrada’s bid for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Essentially just a pair of votes taking attendance, 74 Senators voted “yea” but Sen. John Breaux (La.), one of just four Democrats supporting Estrada, voted “nay,” a sign of his growing impatience with the debate.

Among 25 no-show Senators were 21 Democrats, including three who are busy traveling the nation in support of their nascent presidential bids: John Kerry (Mass.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and John Edwards (N.C.). Delaware’s Senators, Democrats Joe Biden and Tom Carper, are Amtrak commuters, making it impossible to catch a train that late at night. Other Democratic no-shows included older, veteran Senators such Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Edward Kennedy (Mass.), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.).

Recovering from heart surgeries, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who returned to the chamber part-time this week, and Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) both did not make the vote.

Despite the stalled Estrada nomination, the Judiciary Committee continued to move nominees Thursday morning, clearing several of President Bush’s noncontroversial district court appointees, as well as a pair of circuit court nominees whom Democrats fought against.

Votes on the district court nominees could come up Friday or early next week, Frist said. Democrats are expected to allow those votes.

However, Judiciary Democrats were furious with Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for allowing the panel to approve the circuit court nominations of Deborah Cook and John Roberts, contending that there wasn’t enough time to question them at a hearing held about a month ago. Instead, at that hearing on their nominations, Democrats focused most of their questions on another controversial candidate for the circuit courts, Jeffrey Sutton, who has been cleared by the committee and awaits floor action.

After a bitter exchange between Kennedy and Hatch, the chairman called a roll call vote despite Democratic objections. Both Cook and Roberts were approved and are headed to the Senate floor.

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