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Threat of filibuster spurs Senate GOP to force Alito vote

Associated Press
Published January 27, 2006


WASHINGTON - Democratic critics of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito refused on Thursday to allow a vote on his confirmation - so Republicans countered with a move designed to force his approval by early next week.

"It is time to establish an end point" in the debate over President Bush's selection to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said he and some other Democrats had refused to agree to a timetable for ending debate.

However, "there's some division in our caucus," he said.

Democratic leader Harry Reid signaled as much in remarks on the Senate floor. He offered no support for Kennedy, Sen. John Kerry and others who are raising the possibility of a filibuster.

"There's been adequate time for people to debate," Reid said. "No one can complain in this matter that there hasn't been sufficient time to talk about Judge Alito, pro or con. We've had a dignified debate . . . and I would hope that this matter will be resolved without too much more talking." Alito, 55 and a 15-year veteran of the federal appeals court, has more than the 51 votes needed for confirmation. He gained the support of Democrats Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia on Thursday - Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson had earlier said he would vote to confirm Alito - and has the backing of at least 52 of the Senate's 55 Republicans.

The Senate will vote Monday on cutting off debate. If Alito's supporters get 60 votes in the 100-member body, the confirmation vote will follow on Tuesday.

Frist said he had been unable to win a commitment from all senators on a time for a final vote. Instead, he set the stage for cutting off debate Monday with what is known as a cloture vote.

White House spokesman Stephen Schmidt predicted the cloture vote would pass.

"More than 60 senators have signaled their intentions to vote against the filibuster and give Judge Alito the up-or-down vote that he deserves," he said.

Democrats say they oppose Alito because he would replace O'Connor, who has been the swing vote on such issues as abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty.

Asked to name other Democrats siding with him, Kennedy cited Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, as well as Paul Sarbanes of Maryland and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Durbin, however, said, "It is highly unlikely that a filibuster would succeed."

Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, opposes Alito's confirmation but has not yet decided whether to support the filibuster, an aide said.

President Bush earlier in the day called for the Senate to confirm his nominee.

Alito "understands the role of a judge is not to advance a personal and political agenda," Bush said.

Thirty-two senators - 31 Democrats and independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont - are on record saying they will vote against Alito's confirmation. Twenty-two of the Senate's 44 Democrats voted against John Roberts' confirmation as chief justice last year.

Information from the Associated Press and Cox News Service was used in this report.