Is it really possible that a compromise could be reached on judicial filibusters? I'm in the camp that says no -- Frist and his backers have made it clear that to them "compromise" means agreeing to a rule change that would replace the filibuster with some "100 hours" debate limit or something like that, which would be the end of the filibuster. And Democrats are having none of that. But there are still a group of 12 senators, 6 R and 6 D, including our own Ken Salazar and led by outspoken filibuster defender Republican John McCain of Arizona. Aren't they just wasting their time? Maybe, but reading this article gave me a clearer idea of why the twelve think they can get something done, and more importantly how it would work.
Basically, the twelve senators would sign a pact agreeing to vote as a bloc on various nominations and on the nuclear option. The Republicans would agree to vote against the nuclear option and the Dems would agree to support some number of nominees. And this is really the key: There could be a compromise and you wouldn't know it because it would look based on the vote that one side or the other had won completely. That's because it is Bill Frist, who obviously is not part of the compromise negotiations, who gets to decide what order to put up the nominees. And he put two of the worst of the worst -- Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown -- to be voted on first.
At first, I thought that was a stupid move. There are other nominees that would have an easier chance of beating cloture. But then I realized the point is to provoke a nuclear confrontation, not to get nominees through. What this does is it makes the Republicans in the compromise group go first. Unless the group of 12 agrees to support Owen and Brown, then what will happen on Tuesday if there is a compromise is that Frist will go nuclear and find out there aren't even 50 votes there to force through the overriding of the filibuster rule (with Cheney breaking any tie). That would look like a Democratic victory (and it would be) but under the compromise other nominees would get the votes of the 6 Dems in the group and be able to beat cloture. We might not even know that happened for some time.
So my guess is the holdup is that the Republicans want to at least get a split between Rogers and Brown, so when the cloture vote happens one of them gets through. But that would put the Democratic compromisers in the position of showing their hand first (by having to vote in favor of cutting off debate, thus forestalling the nuclear option at the cost of allowing one of the nominees through). Then they would be waiting to see if the R's made good on their promise to vote against the nuclear option on the other nominee. The other problem, of course, is all or some of the R's changing their minds and voting in favor of the nuclear option at some later time.
My prediction, for what it is worth: The compromise efforts will fail, several Republicans (including McCain) will vote against the nuclear option, but Frist will succeed, all of the controversial nominees will get confirmed, and we will see Harry Reid trot out his plans for surviving the Senate's nuclear winter.