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Centrist Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise Monday night to avoid a showdown on President Bush’s stalled judicial nominees and the Senate’s own filibuster rules, officials from both parties said. These officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would clear the way for yes-or-no votes on some of Bush’s nominees, but makes no guarantee. Under the agreement, Democrats would pledge not to filibuster any of Bush’s future appeals court or Supreme Court nominees except in “extraordinary circumstances.” For their part, Republicans agreed not to support an attempt to strip Democrats of their right to block votes. Under the agreement, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, nominated to a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, would advance to a final confirmation vote. Senate Republican leader Bill Frist has made her a test vote in a bruising showdown over the fate of several appeals courts nominees that Democrats blocked in the past and had threatened to block again. With the series of climatic vote set for today, compromise-minded senators of both parties met in the office of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for a last stab at compromise They arranged to make a formal anouncement at a news conference. It was not immediately clear how the agreement would affect plans for an all-night Senate session, or how quickly Republicans would push for confirmation of Owen. The compromise drew the support of six Republicans and six Democrats at a minimum, although the names were not immediately available. Under a complicated situation in effect on the Senate floor, that meant that Democratic opponents would lack the support needed to sustain a filibuster against Owen and other nominees. At the same time, it meant Republicans would not be able to strip Democrats of their ability to filibuster. The agreement came as majority leader Frist, R-Tenn. and Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. steered the Senate toward a showdown on Bush’s nominees and historic filibuster rules, under which a minority can prevent action unless the majority gains 60 votes. The leaders of both parties cast the issue in historic terms. “The moment draws closer when all 100 United States senators must decide a basic question of principle,” Frist said earlier in the day as the rap of the Senate’s gavel opened a scheduled day-and-night session. “Whether to restore the precedent of an up-or-down vote … or to enshrine a new tyranny of the minority.” Democrats said the dispute threatened the ability of a Senate minority to block confirmation votes as it has long been able to do. “A crisis is unfolding here in the Capitol that threatens some of our nation’s founding principles,” said Sen. Harry Reid, the party leader. “This isn’t hype. This is as real as it gets,” he said in remarks taped for a 90-second commercial paid for by an independent organization opposed to Bush’s nominees. While the senators were focused on the Owen nomination, the stakes were far broader, with Republicans maneuvering to strip Democrats of their right to filibuster and thus block current and future nominees to the appeals court and Supreme Court. There currently is no vacancy on the high court, although one or more is widely expected in Bush’s term. Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s coincidental presence in the Capitol during the day was a reminder of that. At age 80 and battling thyroid cancer, he entered the building in a wheelchair on his way to the doctor’s office. For decades, Senate rules have permitted opponents to block votes on judicial nominees by mounting a filibuster, a parliamentary device that can be stopped only by a 60-vote majority. Now, frustrated by Democratic filibusters that thwarted 10 of Bush’s first-term appeals court nominees and threaten to block seven of them again, Frist and the Republicans hope to supersede that rule, by simple majority vote. With hours to fill until morning, and cots available for senators in need of sleep, lawmakers took turns reading prepared speeches that cast the issue in historic terms. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who was present and voting at President Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999, called the looming filibuster clash “the single most important” issue to be decided in his 32 years in the Senate. While both Democrats and Republicans made dire predictions earlier in the day about the impact of the filibuster fight, they also arranged for a nostalgic movie on the topic. Off the Senate floor, Republicans and Democrats arranged for dueling screenings of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” a 1939 Hollywood classic about a filibuster waged by an idealistic young senator. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.

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