The GOP Filibuster Dilemma

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: As Judge Sonia Sotomayor fans out for meetings on Capitol Hill this week, there’s a potentially significant roadblock to the possibility of Republican senators engaging in a filibuster: Republican senators’ own words.

In what only seems like ancient history, Republicans -- back when they had a commanding, 55-seat majority in the Senate, in 2005 -- were seriously considering changing Senate rules to outlaw filibusters of judges, in what was commonly referred to as the “nuclear option,” because of the explosive political ramifications.

Now, with Democrats controlling 59 (and maybe soon to be 60) Senate seats, Republicans are being pressured to consider a filibuster of Sotomayor.

On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, refused to rule out the possibility of a filibuster.

“I think it's really premature to say that or to speculate,” said Cornyn, a member of GOP leadership who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But Cornyn was one of the most outspoken voices in favor of the nuclear option -- in favor, that is, of banning judicial filibusters forever.

“The 'nuclear option' is merely restoration of 200 years of constitutional interpretation on [the Senate's role of] advice and consent,” Cornyn said in March 2005, in a comment that was typical of Republican senators who wanted to make sure President Bush’s nominees would be confirmed.

Cornyn was even sharper in his criticism of Democrats when some were discussing filibustering Alberto Gonzales’ nomination to become the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general.

“From a strictly political standpoint, Democrats are hurting themselves by attacking American success stories like Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales," Cornyn told me when I was at The Boston Globe, in February 2005. "I had hoped that they had learned something from what happened on Nov. 2."

Republicans can rightly point out that the “Gang of 14” compromise prevented the “nuclear option” from being invoked. That means the minority is still permitted to filibuster judicial appointees.

They can also point out -- as some have already -- that President Obama himself contributed to a change in the way the Senate considers Supreme Court appointments. Obama supported the Democratic-led filibuster of Justice Samuel Alito, in 2006, though he’s now calling for a confirmation process that’s free of “ideological brinksmanship.”

Still, should some Republicans choose to filibuster Sotomayor, it will almost certainly fail. Democrats are one court ruling away from getting a 60th Senate seat -- the threshold needed to overcome any filibuster in the Senate.

Cornyn had thoughts on the idea of a filibuster that everyone knew would fail -- back when Obama was joining some of his Democratic colleagues in an effort even those senators knew was futile.

''Continuing to threaten a filibuster, even after it is crystal clear that Democrats don't have the necessary votes to sustain their obstruction, is needless, strange, and at odds with many of their fellow Democrats,” Cornyn told me in January 2006.

UPDATE: Cornyn today acknowledged the GOP’s mathematical realities – and went a bit further in suggesting that a filibuster is not likely, in comments that may raise eyebrows among Republicans who still hold out hope of Norm Coleman regaining his Senate seat in Minnesota.

“We don’t have enough Republicans to filibuster even if we wanted to, which I don’t think we do,” Cornyn said, per The New York Times.

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