It’s no more Mr. Nice Guy for Majority Leader Bill Frist who is trying to end Democratic attempts to stall the President’s judicial nominees. Right now the Republicans are pursuing some rule changes that apply to judicial nominations, by slowly reducing the number of votes needed to reduce closure by three for each session of voting.
It seems likely that the Democrats will stall this motion. The Democratic Senate leadership is doing what it can to maintain party unity, and it’s unlikey that there will be many defections other than Sen. Zell Miller or a handful of moderates. In order to change Senate rules the vote must be made on a 2/3 majority. The chances of fewer than 34 Democrats voting against seem slim.
However, the political consequences of this will be massive. The Democrats are trying to appeal to their hard-core base by stopping any Bush nominee that has even the scent of a conservative idea. This may appeal to the red-meat Democrat crowd, but this is going to prove to be a political liability in 2004. The Republicans are being handed a ready-made issue for 2004 in the stalling of judicial nominees that will energize their base without alienating swing voters.
In order to pull this off, the Democrats would have to paint a picture of judges like Owens and Estrada as being absolute extremists, which is exactly what liberal interest groups are trying to do. Unfortunately, there seem to be just as many people if not more who don’t see standing for federalism and having pro-life opinions as being "extreme". The Democrats have to effectively demonize these people, but that requires them to go off their message to attack the Republican nominees. In the end, it leads to the exact same problem the Democrats had in 2002: they spend so much time bashing the President that they have no time to develop a coherent message of their own.
The efforts of Senate Democrats to stall Bush’s nominees can’t be kept up forever. Either the rules change will pass sooner or later, or many of the Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2004 (including Daschle) will pay the political price for their obstructionism.