Kerry, Kennedy Threaten Filibuster on Alito

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Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) threatened Thursday to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito. But even some Democrats don't believe they can muster the 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne. Senate Republicans would like to hold a final vote on Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, next week. The Senate has been debating his nomination for two days. Yesterday the two Democratic Senators from Massachusetts announced that they will try to block that final vote with a filibuster, but even fellow Democrats doubt they'll succeed.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: With a majority of senators now saying they intend to vote for Judge Alito, the many Democrats who oppose him have been making speeches, more to justify their stands than to sway undecided colleagues. For the most part, those opponents appear resigned to Alito getting confirmed, but the air of inevitability was jolted somewhat late yesterday afternoon when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist rose to speak on the Senate floor.

WILLIAM FRIST: It has been reported to me over the course of the afternoon that there are members from the other side of the aisle who have expressed their intent to filibuster this nominee. As I've said at the outset, it is important to me to make sure that this nominee be given plenty of time, in terms of advising consent on the floor of this body, and indeed, he's had just that.

WELNA: Frist announced that next Monday afternoon, the Senate will vote on cloture, a cutting-off debate, and going to a final vote on Alito's nomination next Tuesday. Sixty votes are needed to end debate and Frist appeared confident he has them. But Massachusetts Democrat, Edward Kennedy, says he and fellow home state Democrat John Kerry think they can muster support to block a vote on Alito by filibustering, or refusing to end debate.

EDWARD KENNEDY: It's an uphill battle, but it's doable, and I think that if people listen carefully to their constituents back in their states all across this country, I think they'll have a greater understanding and awareness of the significance and the importance of their vote.

WELNA: Kennedy said he expected Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, would join him in a filibuster. But on the Senate floor, Reid showed no desire whatsoever to prolong the speechmaking any further.

HARRY REID: We've had a dignified debate. We've gone back and forth, and I would hope that this matter will be resolved without too much more talking, but it's up, Senator, everyone has a right to talk. And again, I express my appreciation to the distinguished majority leader for making sure that everyone had ample time to talk.

WELNA: Reid's spokesman told NPR, you can take it to the bank that Monday's vote will quash a filibuster. The Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, made a similar prediction.

DICK DURBIN: And having made a count, I have come to the conclusion it is highly unlikely that a filibuster would succeed.

WELNA: And that's because a number of Democrats, who oppose Alito, refused to back a filibuster. Colorado's Ken Salazar is a member of the so-called Gang of Fourteen, who vowed to allow judicial filibusters only under extraordinary circumstances.

KEN SALAZAR: I consider the totality of circumstances, including the political reality of some of my colleagues who would be engaging in a filibuster of a Supreme Court justice. And it was in that totality of circumstances that I reached my decision that I would vote yes on a couture motion, that I would oppose a filibuster.

WELNA: And three other Democratic senators have announced they'll vote for Alito. West Virginia's, Robert Byrd, is one of them.

ROBERT BYRD: Judge Alito told me that he respected the separation of powers and would not rule in support of a power-hungry president. I liked that answer. I liked Judge Alito. He struck me as of a man of his word and I intend to vote for him.

WELNA: And yet, at least 31 Democrats and one independent say they'll oppose Alito. That number, which could grow as more declare their intentions, is already 10 more senators than the 22 who voted against confirming Chief Justice John Roberts last fall. Such opposition would leave Alito on the high court with a decidedly partial endorsement. Still, if he does win confirmation Tuesday, as expected, President Bush is certain to claim a political victory that evening in his State of the Union Address.

David Welna, NPR News.

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