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Inside Politics

Reid blasts Frist in Senate

GOP to protest Democratic filibusters on judges

By Steve Turnham
CNN Washington Bureau

Senate Republicans plan a lengthy debate on Wednesday to highlight Democratic filibusters of some of President Bush's judicial nominees.
Senate Republicans plan a lengthy debate on Wednesday to highlight Democratic filibusters of some of President Bush's judicial nominees.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate brought legislative action in the chamber to a halt Monday, vowing to speak continuously for up to five hours to protest what he called the "rank amateur" leadership of the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee.

Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nevada, launched his protest over Frist's scheduling of 30 hours of continuous round-the-clock debate starting Wednesday to highlight Democratic filibusters of some of President Bush's judicial nominees.

"It's inappropriate that we are not going to be able to work through this week; we're going to take two days to talk about judges," said Reid. "I've been told the reason it's being done, deliver a message to the base. Well, I don't know what that means except it's being done for reasons that I don't think are appropriate for the Senate."

A senior Republican Senate source said Frist has been under great pressure from core GOP constituents to get tough on the Democrats. Republicans are angry that Senate Democrats have successfully blocked four of President Bush's picks for the federal bench.

But Democrats point out that they're approved more than 160 other judicial nominees and they say Republicans are only trying to make political points.

Reid "really thinks they've turned this place into a circus," said a senior Democratic aide. "And he isn't going to give them an easy vote."

The partisan spat comes as Congress is struggling to finish work on must-pass government spending bills and two major pieces of legislation, one dealing with a prescription drug benefit as part of Medicare and the other, a sweeping energy bill.

Before Reid started talking, Majority Whip Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, defended Frist's leadership. Frist, said McConnell, has performed far better than former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, under similar political circumstances.

"Someone on the floor of the Senate referred to the Republican leader last week as amateur and used the term mismanagement," said McConnell. "In addition to being quite unsenatorial, let us recall that this leader is laboring under a one-vote margin, just like the last leader had to endure, given that same burden.

"It might be appropriate and timely to compare the hard facts," he continued. "With the same one-vote majority, Senator Frist has pushed 10 appropriations bills across the Senate floor while last year's leadership delivered only three."

Reid's protest delays an expected vote on another major appropriations bill. Senate Republicans, who had hoped to fly in for a vote Monday then fly back home for Veterans day before returning for the 30 hours of debate on the judges, will now have to alter their plans.

Anticipating a difficult week, Senate Chaplain Barry Black opened Monday's session with an appeal to God to calm frayed tempers.

"Help the members of this body to sidestep the divisive power of contention and find common ground," prayed Black. "Destroy the winner-takes-all mentality and ... make them exemplary models of reconciliation for a nation and world that watched their deliberations."

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