Sen. Pryor on the 'Gang of 14' Filibuster Deal

Madeleine Brand talks with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) about Monday's compromise concerning Democratic filibuster threats against some of President Bush's nominees to the federal bench. Pryor is one of the so-called "Gang of 14," a bipartisan group of senators that negotiated the compromise.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Joining me now is Senator Mark Pryor. He's a Democrat from Arkansas and one of the bipartisan group of 14 moderates dubbed the `Gang of 14.'

And, Senator, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Senator MARK PRYOR (Democrat, Arkansas): Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BRAND: So what do Democrats gain in this deal?

Sen. PRYOR: I think if we try to term this in terms of just one party winning or another, it's a little bit deceptive, because this agreement is an agreement. It's a compromise. And let me assure you that neither side is completely happy about parts of it. And I'm one of those as well. But we all came together, and this is based on trust. And I think in the final analysis, this is very good for the Senate and very good for the country.

BRAND: Until this deal was struck, and even now, there is a lot of harsh rhetoric, and there has been a lot of harsh rhetoric, about Judges Owen and Brown and Pryor--basically, Democrats saying that they are unacceptable and unfit to sit as a judge. So why are they suddenly acceptable?

Sen. PRYOR: Well, the concern I have about some of these nominations is that they'll be activist judges. And I don't like judicial activism, whether it's liberal activism or conservative activism. I think that our judges should make right judgments and administer justice and interpret the law, but that should always be consistent with what the legislative branch does--namely, the Congress in this case. Regardless of that, we've reached an agreement, and it is a true compromise. That's one of the things the Democrats had to give up--we had to give up the fight on a few of these judges. But overall, we think, big picture, this is a very positive step for the Senate and very positive for America.

BRAND: But--so you gave up these judges, and what did you get in return?

Sen. PRYOR: Well, basically, we were able to take the nuclear option off the table. And we were also able to preserve the right, not just for Democrats but for all senators, to act like senators. And part of that means to filibuster if we feel that events warrant that. And what I was most concerned about when I looked at the nuclear option and the rhetoric that was going on around the nuclear option--I was concerned about the nuclear winter, the aftermath of the nuclear option. And my big fear was that we really, other than appropriation bills, wouldn't get much done this entire Congress.

BRAND: Did you do this with an eye to preserving the filibuster right when or if President Bush has a Supreme Court vacancy to fill?

Sen. PRYOR: There was a lot of discussion about that. I think a lot of senators saw the entire nuclear option debate, and the emphasis for the nuclear option, pointed toward the next nomination for the US Supreme Court.

I don't know how that nomination will work out. I mean, most people believe that Justice Rehnquist's slot will be the first vacancy. Again, nobody knows that, but assuming that's the case, you have a fairly conservative justice, and assuming the president puts forth a fairly conservative nominee, you know, it's just kind of trading a conservative for a conservative. So I may be miscalculating this, but I don't see this first nomination as the big battle. I think the big battle might come on the second or third nomination.

BRAND: Senator Frist, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, is saying the nuclear option is not off the table. He's saying that today, that he'll use it anytime he feels there's a need. So do you anticipate another standoff?

Sen. PRYOR: Well, I don't know. I can't speak for Senator Frist. Our agreement is based on trust. And we did not have Senator Frist's blessing on this agreement, and didn't have Senator Reed's blessing. And, in fact, what we tried to do is find that common ground. And whether you say we went to the middle or the more moderates--in fact, some people have said this is the revenge of the moderates; you know, finally the center in the Senate is taking hold and we're actually going to band together and get some things done.

But Senator Frist can talk like that if he wants to. He can say he's going to continue to pull the trigger, continue the threat. But as long as we have the votes in our agreement, the 14 of us, as long as we stick together and honor the integrity of the agreement, then he doesn't have the nuclear option at his disposal. He can bring it up if he wants to, but he'll get beat, just like some of these filibusters may be threatened. But unless the 14 understand that a filibuster's OK, then there won't be another filibuster. So I think that we have 14 very strong individuals, and we're going to make this work.

BRAND: Senator Mark Pryor is a Democrat from Arkansas. Thank you for joining us, Senator.

Sen. PRYOR: Hey, thanks for having me.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: