WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Graham is famous for waiting until the last minute to make up his mind on controversial votes and then siding with his fellow Democrats. His vote on judicial nominee Miguel Estrada was no exception.
Graham, recovering from heart surgery, missed last week's vote on Estrada, a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In Thursday's vote, Graham did not declare his intentions until two hours before the roll call.
In a 55-42 vote, Republicans failed to win the 60 votes needed to break a Democratic filibuster and move to the confirmation of Estrada, who wants a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Graham voted no; Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., voted yes.
On the Senate floor, Graham complained the Bush administration had politicized judicial nominations and had not provided enough information about Estrada's record. But Graham left open the possibility he might vote for Estrada if more information was provided.
The Estrada nomination puts Graham, a presidential candidate, in a difficult spot. Graham could lose support with the Democratic activists who vote in primary states if he sides with Republicans to support Estrada. But the GOP has criticized him for failing to back a Hispanic nominee.
Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach, who is seeking Graham's Senate seat, said Thursday, "Sen. Graham has a lot of explaining to do to the people of Florida and America's ever-growing Hispanic community. Sen. Graham isn't only voting against a qualified nominee, he's voting against inclusion."
Mel Martinez, President Bush's secretary of housing and urban development and a possible candidate for the Senate seat, also criticized Graham. "The senator's vote today is not in keeping with his long tradition of being supportive of the interests of Hispanics," Martinez said. "The action he took is not representative of his Florida constituents."
Graham's spokesman Paul Anderson responded: "Mr. Estrada's ethnic origins had nothing to do with this. It's unfortunate people on the other side of the aisle attempted to use this as a political weapon."