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GOP protest closes Senate hearings

GOP protest closes Senate hearings

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Republicans shut down three committee hearings Wednesday to pressure Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, to schedule hearings for more of President Bush's judicial nominees.

Under Senate rules, committees must get approval from the full Senate to continue meeting after two hours, usually a mere formality.

Any senator can object to a committee meeting, and Republicans used the rule to end hearings at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Government Affairs Committee and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said the move was not payback for last week's Judiciary Committee rejection of Judge Charles Pickering's nomination to the federal appeals court.

Instead, Lott's spokesman said it was meant as a warning to Democrats to hold hearings by May on eight other circuit court nominees President Bush sent to the Senate last year.

"Senate Republicans strongly believe that we should have an understanding on when President Bush's circuit court nominees, many of whom have been languishing in this committee for almost a year, will get hearings and be treated fairly," said Lott spokesman Ron Bonjean.

"We'll continue to call attention to this issue in a variety of ways."

A senior GOP leadership source said ending a Judiciary Committee hearing was "symbolic," but the other two committees were picked "randomly."

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee was holding an Enron-related hearing and decided to continue meeting in an unofficial capacity.

The Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee was preparing its pension reform bill but had to stop.

"All they're doing is delaying the inevitable. We will report this out tomorrow and send it to the floor for a vote," said Jim Manley, a committee spokesman.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who also chaired one of Pickering's nomination hearings.

Lott offered a resolution last week saying the eight nominees should get hearings by May. Bonjean said Lott is unhappy because he "has not heard back from Daschle."

Pickering is from Lott's home state and the GOP leader said he took the 10-9 party line defeat in the Judiciary Committee as a personal affront and a slap at the state of Mississippi.

Last week, Lott announced he would oppose the nomination of Daschle staffer Jonathan Adelstein to the five-member Federal Communications Commission.


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