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Reid: Bush Lied About White House Role in Nuclear Option

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused President Bush on Friday of lying to him about the role his administration would play in a possible Senate rules change — the latest sign the chamber is headed for an unprecedented showdown over judicial nominees.

Reid released the blistering critique after Vice President Cheney told a group of Republican lawyers that he would, in his role as President of the Senate, vote to change the rules requiring judges to need only a simple majority for approval.

“Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules,” Reid said in a statement released by his office. “Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.”

Cheney’s remarks came during a speech before the Republican National Lawyers Association, which was meeting in Washington, D.C.

Cheney made a point to stop during his address to publicly acknowledge Charles Pickering, one of the 10 judges blocked by Democrats in the 108th Congress, who was sitting in the audience. Bush eventually used his power to appoint Pickering to the appellate court during a Congressional recess. The Mississippi judge, who is the father of Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), is now retired.

“His nomination, and the others that were filibustered, were not held up for a lack of support,” Cheney said. “On the contrary, each one of them had majority backing and would have been swiftly confirmed by the full Senate, if only given the chance.”

“These nominations were held up strictly for partisan political reasons, in an astounding departure from historical precedent,” Cheney added.

The vice president sought to stress that any decision to seek a rules change would be made by Republican Senate leaders, not the White House. But Cheney was firm in his belief the rules change should occur.

“If the Senate majority decides to move forward and if the issue is presented to me in my elected office as President of the Senate and presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an up-or-down vote,” he said to applause from the politically friendly audience. “On the merits, this should not be a difficult call to make.”

Republicans are giving serious consideration to disarming Democrats of their power to filibuster judicial nominations. Currently, Democrats are able to block a judicial nominee by requiring 60 votes for approval. Republicans are demanding Democrats allow an up-or-down vote on all judicial nominees, and if denied have threatened to change the rule so that it requires only 51 votes to do so.

It is not clear whether Republicans have the 51 votes needed to make the rules change, which could come as early as next week.

The heated words came hours after Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) took to the chamber floor to urge both political parties to tone down the rhetoric. But Bennett made it clear that he believes Bush’s judicial nominees deserve a vote.

Democrats have vowed to bring legislative business to a crawl in the chamber if Republicans are successful in making the rules change, known commonly as the “nuclear option.”

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