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As the minority party, Democrats are unlikely to stand in the way of Republican plans to hold floor votes on the 18 federal court nominees that have been approved by the Judiciary Committee but are awaiting confirmation by the full Senate. But fierce showdowns may still erupt over the Administration's other judicial nominees--including a possible Supreme Court pick at the end of the court's term. The White House plans to resubmit the nominations of Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen, two conservative judges blocked this year by Democrats. The incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch, is preparing to hold votes on three nominees whose chances the Democrats might have scuttled in the past. The only real weapon available for Senate Democrats is the filibuster, a tool rarely applied in such circumstances. But party leaders such as Reid will try to "draw the line in the sand and say we're not going to go there." Says Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy: "If there's going to be a determination to send right-wing ideologues up, that will cause a battle on the Senate floor."
While the economy failed to hurt the Administration this fall, White House officials know they can't sit still. For months Bush advisers have considered a shake-up of the President's economic team but avoided any moves that might convey the impression that the President's policies had failed. The margin of last week's victory may make Bush less skittish about such perceptions. The White House desperately wants to jump-start the economy in case a conflict with Iraq sends shudders through the global economy. Administration officials say they plan to use their Senate majority early in the new year to make elements of the President's $1.35 trillion tax-cut package permanent, push through an industry-friendly prescription-drug benefit for seniors and pass an economic-stimulus package.
Even with its newly won bipartite control, the White House doesn't command a "governing majority" in the Senate: the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Members of Congress from both parties say Bush will still have to cut deals with Democrats and ditch pet projects in order to get things done. "The President asked for the Senate, and he's got it," says Reid. "He can no longer blame us if something doesn't go right." House Republican leaders say they plan to send a raft of Bush's favorite bills, which they passed early in his term, back to the G.O.P.-controlled Senate. While popular with conservatives, some of the items on that list--a ban on partial-birth abortions and an energy package that includes drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example--remain unpalatable to the centrists who are still critical to passing big-ticket legislation. The White House is wary of sending another moderate Republican like Jeffords running to the other side of the aisle. Says a Republican lobbyist: "If they're committed to growing their power base, they must not overreach by misreading the election as a mandate for certain conservative causes."