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GOP fails to end Democratic filibuster on Estrada

Five votes short of the 60 needed

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Miguel Estrada
Miguel Estrada

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a blow to the Bush administration, Senate Republicans failed Thursday to break a Democratic filibuster on the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada.

President Bush called the Democratic blockade "a disgrace," and GOP senators denounced what one described as "simple raw politics."

But Senate Democrats said they extended the debate because Estrada refused to answer some questions during his confirmation hearing. They also said the White House has rebuffed efforts to get Estrada's memos from his days at the Justice Department.

The Senate voted 55-44 to end debate, five votes short of the 60 needed for such a move. The vote came after weeks of often angry debate on Estrada's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Estrada, 42, would be the first Hispanic to sit on that court, which often serves as a steppingstone to the U.S. Supreme Court.

His nomination divided Hispanic groups, with some voicing support for his nomination and others outlining their opposition.

Bush and Republicans vowed to keep pressing for a confirmation vote on Estrada.

"I will stand by Miguel Estrada's side until he is sworn in as a judge," Bush said. "I call on the Senate Democratic leadership to stop playing politics and permit a vote on Miguel Estrada's nomination. Let each senator vote as he or she thinks best, but give the man a vote."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Thursday's cloture vote was "just the beginning".

"It's not going to stop, it's not going to slow down because we are going to continue to fight," Frist said.

But it was not immediately clear how Republicans would proceed and when they would press for another vote.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Democrats would hold firm until Estrada was more forthcoming with senators. At his confirmation hearing, Estrada refused to answer questions about several key court cases, including those dealing with abortion and affirmative action.

"We simply want Mr. Estrada to follow the law, to follow the Constitutional obligation he has to provide us with all of the information regarding his background, his positions, so we can make an honest judgment about his qualification to serve on the second highest court in the land," Daschle said.

The process of nominating judges to the federal bench has become increasingly bitter and partisan. During the Clinton administration, Democrats said Republicans blocked judicial nominees because of ideological differences. Now, Republicans are saying the same thing about Democrats.

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