WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist rejected compromise offers yesterday that would allow Democrats to continue to block judicial nominees, saying all President Bush's past and future court choices deserve confirmation votes from the GOP-controlled Senate.
''At the end of the day, one will be left standing . . . the Constitution, which allows up-or-down votes, or the filibuster," Frist said.
Democrats blocked 10 of Bush's appellate court choices through filibuster threats, which means those nominees would have to get 60 votes before they could be confirmed to lifetime seats on the nation's second highest court. They have threatened to block again the seven that Bush renominated this year, as well as future ones they consider outside of the mainstream.
Republicans in turn have threatened to use their majority to change senatorial rules to require a simple majority vote for confirmation, in part because they fear a Democratic blockade could affect a Supreme Court vacancy if a high court seat opens in Bush's second term.
To avoid that showdown, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that he had offered Frist a compromise. The Nevada Democrat refused to give full details but said part of that compromise would require Republicans to back away from attempting to ban judicial filibusters.
''I want to emphasize that any potential compromise is contingent on a commitment that the nuclear option will not be exercised in any form during this Congress," Reid said.
Democratic congressional sources said Reid laid out the compromise for party members at a closed-door meeting yesterday.
It includes allowing confirmation votes for three nominees for the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth District -- Richard Griffin, David McKeague, and Susan Neilson -- in exchange for Henry Saad's nomination to that court being withdrawn. Democrats also would not block confirmation of one of the four remaining filibustered nominees: Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, William Myers, and William Pryor, although it is not clear which one would be chosen for confirmation.
Reid also called for giving senators more power over appointment of judges from their state as well as the creation of a task force, made up of former senators, to recommend improvements in the confirmation process.
But Frist said he would not accept any deal that keeps his Republican majority from confirming judicial nominees that the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved. ''My goal is to have fair up-and-down votes," Frist said in a news conference on the Senate floor. ''Are we going to shift from that principle? The answer to that is no."
Frist also would not discuss specifics, but said he would not advocate the withdrawal of any judicial nominee and would continue to insist they all get confirmation votes. ''That would mean people in the past as well as the future," Frist said.
Frist and Reid acknowledge that they are constantly negotiating, trying to find a solution in which the Senate does not have a showdown.
Republicans could eliminate judicial filibusters by majority vote, and Democrats concede Frist may be only one or two votes shy of the necessary total.
Yesterday, one of the undecided Republicans, Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, said he would vote with Frist to ban filibusters. But, he said, ''I'm hoping that they come up with a compromise so we don't need to deal with this issue."
Democrats say their compromise is aimed at the 10 to 12 undecided Republicans who want to avoid a showdown. ''This compromise is aimed at showing them that we really don't want to come to this," said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York.
The undecided Republicans also are being pressured by groups like the American Conservative Union, which rates lawmakers for conservatives. That group announced yesterday that it would score lawmakers based on how they vote on Frist's plan to ban judicial filibusters.
That decision ''demonstrates clearly how important ACU regards the need to restore fairness and the historic practices of the Senate on the issue of nominees to the federal bench," said ACU Chairman David Keene.
Democrats argue that the nominees are too conservative to warrant lifetime appointments to the nation's highest courts. They have threatened to block the seven nominees that Bush sent back after winning reelection, and any others they consider out of the mainstream of judicial temperament.
Democrats drew criticism when they threatened to slow the Senate's business if Republicans eliminate judicial filibusters. Democratic leaders began stressing an alternative approach Monday, attempting to force debate on their own agenda rather than the president's.