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Senators consider organizing resolution after shake-up

From Dana Bash
CNN Capitol Hill Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As Democrats savored their first full day in control of the Senate Wednesday, lawmakers negotiated behind closed doors on an organizing resolution that governs the make-up and rules of Senate committees.

Before Republicans allow a resolution to go through, they are demanding an agreement from new Majority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, that President Bush's judicial and executive nominees get fair treatment in Democratic-headed committees.

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Until the resolution is passed, committees revert to their makeup at the end of the last Congress, when Republicans were in the majority. This means Democratic chairmen will run committees with GOP majorities and the 11 Senate freshmen will be unassigned.

Mindful that the slim majority is tenuous, Republicans are also exploring a "snap back" provision in the organizing resolution that would implement power-sharing rules, should the Senate again become evenly divided. This would prevent another major reorganization, which causes serious disruption in areas such as staff jobs, budgets and office space.

Several GOP senators said they were uncomfortable seeking a mechanism in the organizing resolution for pulling a nominee out of a deadlocked committee -- another idea under consideration -- because it breaks Senate precedent and could come back to haunt them when roles are reversed.

Instead, many Republicans said they preferred some kind of public promise, or on-the-record statement from the Democrats, pledging that they would treat nominees with "fairness." In the past, both Republicans and Democrats have effectively killed opposing parties' nominations by refusing to schedule hearings or committee votes on them.

GOP senators are also considering asking for special rules for Supreme Court nominees, which would allow a nomination to go to the Senate floor for a vote if the nominee is voted down in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The Republicans are legitimately concerned about nominations because of the statements of Democrats this year," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alaska. "They talked about wholesale blocking of Bush's nominees."

Early in the day, the Senate Republican Caucus met with the five GOP senators chosen by leader Sen. Trent Lott, R - Mississippi, to negotiate with Daschle.

Caucus members and the five negotiators tried to find a consensus on what points they would raise with the new majority leader.

Later, those negotiators -- Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky., Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania., and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico -- met for the second day in a row with Daschle.

Tight-lipped attendees would only term the discussion as little more than "productive."

Although negotiators said they hope to complete talks on the organizing resolution by Friday, they concede they may not have a deal until next week.








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