Democrat Landrieu Explains Filibuster Deal

Michele Norris talks with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) about the deal she and 13 other senators signed allowing a floor vote on three of the president's contested appeals court nominees. The Democratic dealmakers also agreed to filibuster future nominees only under "extraordinary" circumstances.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Senator Mary Landrieu is a Democrat from Louisiana. She's one of the 14 senators that hammered out the compromise that pulled the Senate back from the brink of detonating that so-called nuclear option.

Senator Landrieu, thanks for being with us.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): Thank you very much, Michele.

NORRIS: The compromise was several days in the making, but in the end the final agreement was worked out in the office of Senator John McCain. It really went down to the last hour. What finally broke the logjam?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Well, it was a continuous progress over the week, and literally every one of the 14 senators played a particular part. But the whole purpose was to really preserve the traditions of the Senate. And so we worked through early mornings, afternoons and nights to try to hammer out a deal. We've done it. It's not perfect. We're hoping it will hold. We're committed to making it work.

NORRIS: Some are already saying, though, that this compromise is, really, little more than a cease-fire, that you've pushed this battle a few pages deeper into the calendar. Will this compromise hold?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Again, we hope so. We have a lot of trust among the 14 of us. We've all worked very closely together. Now I hope the president will see and understand what our words and actions have meant--to really ask him to seek advice from the Senate, not just the Republicans, but Democrats as well. If he will do that and if both leaders will, again, take a breath and just reflect on the difficulties, then maybe we can get through this difficult time.

NORRIS: It seems to me that the strength or the fragility of this compromise lives inside the details and the language and specifically the word `extraordinary.' Democrats have agreed to filibuster judicial nominees only under extraordinary circumstances. Could you please define that for us, extraordinary?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Well, I'm not sure I can say any more than we've decided among ourselves that we will recognize it when we see it, and we just can't go into any more detail than that.

NORRIS: And so for now, you all speak with one voice. I don't want to belabor this point about the word or the term `extraordinary circumstances.' But I'm just wondering if you discuss specific judges, either those that are in the pipeline right now or those that might be named in the future, to help determine exactly what that means.

Sen. LANDRIEU: We did. We had some discussions about various judges who are either out of committee and pending or are anticipated to be brought up before committee. Some of those judges, of course, were listed in the memorandum that's been made public, and other names have not been made public. The only way to avoid what we thought was a terrible tragedy for the Senate, for the country, was to come to some agreement.

NORRIS: One final question: Some of those who participated in that 11th-hour session in Senator McCain's office have said that they'll probably take a little bit of heat back home. What about you? How will this play out back in Louisiana?

Sen. LANDRIEU: I've got a lot of comments about people being generally relieved. I've gotten calls from Republicans and from Democrats. And, again, I've got to try to think, `What would people really want us to do?' And I have to believe in my heart the people in my state want an energy bill, a transportation bill. And I knew if we took this vote, that that was not going to happen, and so I had to do everything I could to keep us on track.

NORRIS: Senator Mary Landrieu, thanks for being with us.

Sen. LANDRIEU: Thank you.

NORRIS: Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana. You can hear interviews with other senators who were part of the agreement, including Republican John McCain of Arizona. That's at our Web site, npr.org.

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