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Senate Opens Quiet Week as Estrada Debate Continues to Occupy Floor Schedule

Both parties appeared to dig in their heels Monday as the Senate began its fourth week of debate over judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, although Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) proposed one-on-one meetings between Democrats and the nominee.

Democrats continued to block a confirmation vote and Republicans persisted in calling for one as the two sides debated the merits of placing Estrada on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“We have heard all of the arguments for and against his nomination,” Hatch said from the floor. “What we have not heard is a good reason for why this filibuster should continue.

“We have not heard any good reason why his nomination should not be brought up for an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.”

Democrats have blocked such a vote because, they say, Estrada did not fully answer their questions and therefore they cannot decide on his confirmation.

However, Democrats have said they are not trying to block the Senate from moving on to other business.

In fact, the Senate is voting on another judicial nominee later Monday. But if the Senate’s empty calendar is any indication — no other votes have been scheduled for the week so far — it does not look like the Senate will take up anything besides Estrada anytime soon.

Hatch proffered a solution to the Estrada delay Monday.

He said the nominee would meet with any Senator individually and he had advised colleagues in a letter that Estrada would reply to written questions as well.

“We still believe Miguel Estrada deserves an up-or-down vote and we will continue to let the Democrats know that we are interested in scheduling a vote,” said Nick Smith, a spokesman for Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

But Democrats made clear they are in no hurry to do so.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) reminded Republicans that allowing up-or-down votes has not always been the GOP’s mantra.

“Well, it is just unfortunate that we didn’t hear that when President Clinton’s nominees were sent to the Senate for confirmation,” he said.

He then went on to talk about Bonnie Campbell, a former Iowa attorney general, whom Clinton nominated to the federal bench but whose name was never brought to the floor for a vote.

“We couldn’t get a vote on her,” Harkin said. “She had her hearing. She answered whatever questions [were proposed] to her. Not once did any Republican Senator complain that Bonnie Campbell was not forthcoming. In fact, I’m told that not once [did] a Republican Senator complain that a Clinton nominee [did not] adequately answer these questions.

“So as long as Mr. Estrada is here, I will continue … to bring up the issue of Bonnie Campbell because obviously it remains, I believe, a dark mark on the Senate.”

Hatch then retorted: “The more I hear from some of my colleagues, I believe that they believe that President Clinton’s nominees were mistreated,” he said. “The more I hear them say this … the more I believe that what we’re seeing here on Mr. Estrada — this filibuster — is more about payback than about Mr. Estrada.”

He went on to say that he felt badly about Campbell but that her situation is not comparable to the present one.

“I feel badly that she didn’t make it but she didn’t make it to the floor,” Hatch said. “She was not on the floor. There was no filibuster.”

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