WASHINGTON -- Senators trying to broker a compromise on judicial filibusters said yesterday that an agreement was possible before a crucial vote this week set by majority Republicans to break the logjam on President Bush's judicial nominees.
Two senators leading talks among the dozen or so lawmakers who could force a deal spoke of the chance of averting a showdown, with a meeting set for today.
But Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, said on separate television news programs that an agreement that would protect the rights of the minority party and prevent abuse of the filibuster is proving elusive.
While wishing that group well, leaders from both parties predicted victory should senators end up voting on the change in procedures, which has come to be known as the ''nuclear option."
''The contempt for the rule of law and the law of rules will set a new precedent, an illegal precedent," Harry Reid of Nevada, leader of Senate Democrats, said yesterday in an address to new graduates of George Washington University Law School, his alma mater.
''If a compromise cannot be reached, Democrats and responsible Republicans will cast a historic vote for the Constitution and against the nuclear option," Reid said.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republicans' vote counter, said majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee had enough votes to stop a filibuster of the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the US Court of Appeals.
''If Senator Frist has to exercise [that] option, I believe we'll have the votes," McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said on CBS's ''Face the Nation."
In the shadow of the next Supreme Court vacancy, the debate over Bush's judicial nominees has become a fight over the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows members to hold up legislative business with unlimited talk. Bitterness has festered for years over what both sides say is abuse by the other of that parliamentary tool.
Frist, another potential presidential candidate for 2008, has given Democrats an ultimatum: Stand aside and allow an up-or-down vote on Bush's nominees, or prepare for an end to filibusters on judicial nominees.
Frist's timetable calls for the crucial votes to be cast Tuesday and Wednesday. Democrats have refused to comply, insisting that the filibuster be preserved as a check on the rights of the Senate minority.
Senate Republicans gained four seats in the November elections, bringing the vote split to 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and one Independent. Under parliamentary procedures, 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster and go to a vote.
Six senators from each party are needed to force a deal whereby future judicial nominees are not blocked and current filibuster procedures remain unchanged.