Capitol Hill Mood Shifts With Winds of Compromise

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There's a different sort of buzz on Capitol Hill one day after a filibuster compromise was reached among a bipartisan group of senators. Do most senators come away happy with the end result?

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

This is Brian Naylor at the Capitol.

While inside the chamber senators were debating the impact of last night's agreement, similar discussions were occurring outside the chamber as well. Democrats were generally of the mind that they came out on top and seemed hopeful that Republicans in congressional leadership and in the White House will now have to give them a measure of respect or at least return their phone calls. Ben Nelson of Nebraska helped broker the deal.

Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): You know, when I was governor and I had the essential legislation, I talked to the members of the Legislature when I thought it was important. I didn't clear everything, and I didn't ask permission, but I communicated. And I think that's all that's being suggested here.

NAYLOR: Freshman Democrat Barack Obama of Illinois says the agreement isn't all that much different from what Democratic Leader Harry Reid offered Majority Leader Bill Frist a few weeks ago, an up-or-down vote on some of the nominees in exchange for pulling the nuclear option off the table.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I mean, I think there's been a view on the part of the caucus generally that the interest was not to filibuster every single judge, but the interest was to get the White House's attention and make sure that they're not trying to shove the most ideological candidates down the throats of the Senate.

NAYLOR: The fight over judicial nominations at the appeals court level has long been seen as laying the groundwork for a battle in the not-too-distant future over Supreme Court nominees. Obama says last night's agreement should ensure a consultative approach when that day comes.

Sen. OBAMA: I think that the White House moving forward, particularly on Supreme Court nominations, is now going to say to itself, `Maybe we should check in with moderate Republicans and Democrats before we make our selection and not just check in with James Dobson.' And that's, I think, a positive step.

NAYLOR: James Dobson being the founder of Focus on the Family and one of many outside conservative leaders to excoriate Republicans for signing on to the agreement shelving the nuclear option. Many of the attacks have targeted Arizona Republican John McCain, who helped orchestrate the agreement and who has long been viewed with suspicion by these activists. McCain, a possible presidential candidate in 2008, professed not to be concerned.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Look, that's the last thing I worried about. I wouldn't have come out in opposition to the nuclear option if I was worried about my political future. I was doing what I thought was right for the institution. And you know what I've found politically? Every time I do what I think is right, it usually turns out all right.

NAYLOR: But other Republicans seemed bitter about the agreement. They say that Democrats had leveled several years of attacks on some of the judicial nominees and gotten away with it. Virginia Republican George Allen said two of the nominees who were not included in the agreement, Henry Saad and William Myers, have effectively been tossed overboard.

Senator GEORGE ALLEN (Republican, Virginia): It was like a duel, and both sides decided not to have the duel. And they then discharged their dueling pistols on two judges, which is what the Democrats ultimately wanted--was a few scalps.

NAYLOR: No one seems to know how or whether the agreement will translate to cooperation on other issues. One other nominee that Democrats had been blocking is John Bolton, the administration's choice for UN ambassador. Senate Democratic Leader Reid today called Bolton a bad choice but declined to answer whether the Democrats would attempt to filibuster him. And it's probably too soon to tell whether this coup by centrists in both parties may pay dividends on other issues, such as, say, Social Security. But while the agreement on judicial nominations may not foster greater bipartisan cooperation or heal all the wounds, in the words of Illinois Democrat Obama, `At least it stopped the bleeding.' Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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