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Senate Deal Dislodges Nominees

Dangling the popular highway funding bill as his hostage, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck a deal Tuesday night with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to dislodge a handful of President Bush’s stalled appellate court nominees.

Under the agreement, Reid and McConnell decided to advance at least three outstanding circuit court appointments before the Senate’s Memorial Day recess, which begins May 23. Senate Republicans have complained for months about the pace at which the Senate has approved Bush’s judicial nominees this Congress, but so far, have failed to follow through on any threats to trip up floor activity.

Going to the floor, Reid said after numerous discussions with McConnell and his Democratic Conference, he would “do his very best” to advance three of the lifetime appointees. Reid said he couldn’t make guarantees nor could he specify which judges would move forward, but he would do his best to follow through on the leaders’ deal.

“We believe we need to make more progress on judges,” Reid said. “As I’ve said before we don’t want the minority to be treated as we were treated during the Clinton years.”

Sources say McConnell decided to put his words into action earlier Tuesday after speaking to Republicans during their weekly policy lunch. GOP Senators agreed to band together to hold up passage of the bipartisan highway bill until Reid agreed to press forward on a bloc of the federal appellate hopefuls.

“You keep saying what are we going to do about it, well this is what he’s going to do about it,” said a GOP leadership aide. “[McConnell] and his Conference had enough of the delay on judges. This is our way of getting action on judges — through this bill.”

If the deal is goes through, Senators could grow from seven to 10 the number of Bush’s circuit court nominees approved so far this Congress. Republicans have been pushing for Senate approval of at least 15 of those judicial appointees by June, the average number advanced by a Senate majority during the final two years of a president from the opposing party’s term.

“This is a step toward that 15 or 17,” said the GOP leadership aide.

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