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Senate hits impasse on organizing resolution

By Dana Bash, CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Negotiations between Senate Republicans and Democrats over how to reorganize the chamber have reached an impasse because of disagreements over the treatment of President Bush's judicial nominees.

Republicans, who said they were "disappointed" they have not been able to work out an agreement on treatment of judicial nominees, held a press conference Thursday to air their differences and ask for the full Senate to vote on two outstanding GOP demands.

"We are only asking for fairness. Let's embody that in an organizing resolution which we have agreed upon and allow the Republicans to have two votes on issues that we believe are good government and fundamentally fair," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, told CNN he did not intend to bring these issues up for a full Senate vote, and will instead try to resume negotiations with Republicans.

"I want to resolve this matter between us. I'm disappointed they went public. I'm not in favor of divisive votes," he said.

Five Republican senators have been privately negotiating with Daschle over a resolution that determines the size and makeup of committees now that Democrats have taken control of the Senate.

For all practical purposes, until the organizing resolution is complete, legislation and Bush nominees cannot get through committees.

Committees also retain the same make-up they had at the end of the previous Congress, which means Democratic chairmen have Republican majorities and freshmen senators don't have voting rights on committees.

Both sides have agreed to give Democrats a one-seat majority on committees and let each committee determine its own budget and staffing. But Republicans want an on-the-record guarantee that all of Bush's Supreme Court nominees will get a full Senate vote, even if the Judiciary Committee does not approve them.

Republicans say because of partisan comments by Democrats that they might apply litmus tests to Bush's judges, the GOP wants to put into the rules a process that has been tradition for 120 years -- a full Senate vote on all nominees for the highest court in the land.

The second is to make public the so-called "blue slip process," which gives home-state senators veto power over judicial nominees before they are even considered by the Senate. The goal, GOP senators say, is to make sure senators will not secretly hold up judges they dislike.

But a senior Democratic aide said Democrats have no intention of changing Senate rules.

"Democrats are not willing to agree to it because it would be an unprecedented grant of authority and Senate rules that have never occurred before in American history," said the aide.

This aide said Democrats should be judged by their record, pointing out that the last time they had control of Congress, they allowed two Supreme court nominees -- Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas -- to have a full Senate votes even though they were defeated in committee.

On the blue slip issue, Democrats say Republicans only brought up the idea to Daschle in the last day or so and he has not yet had a chance to present the idea to his caucus.

Democrats also question why Republicans were not concerned about an open process when there was a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled Senate, a Democratic aide said.

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