Early in December, as the Florida Supreme Court mulled over Al Gore's fate, a few dozen reporters crowded into a Senate press gallery for a conference with the newly elected Democratic leadership. After several minutes of introductions, a reporter called out a question to Thomas Daschle, the Democratic minority leader since 1994. If the Senate turned out to be 50-50, the reporter asked Daschle, "what would be your title?"
It wasn't surprising that during the fight over John Ashcroft's nomination for attorney general, one side seemed especially eager to discuss his putative racism while the other side eschewed the matter. But it was surprising that his defenders were the eager ones. "I have never known John Ashcroft to be a racist," proclaimed Oklahoma Representative J.C. Watts, who testified on Ashcroft's behalf. "It is not pleasant for me to hear terms such as racism applied to you," sniffed Bob Smith, sometime-Republican senator of New Hampshire, with a nod to his old colleague. "Branding a good man with the ugly slur of 'racist' without justification or cause is intolerable," Missouri Republican Kenny Hulshof told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It was, on the whole, an unusual display of Democratic solidarity. On April 27, all nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- backed, according to ranking member Patrick Leahy, by the entire Democratic caucus -- signed a letter to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales about George W. Bush's proposed nominations to the federal bench. "We are not going to be rolled over," promised New York's Charles Schumer, who called the letter a "shot across the bow." The confirmation process, warned Leahy, "may grind to a screeching halt."
"We are so far behind," exclaims Terry McAuliffe, gazing out his window toward the Capitol. "I got a briefing last night that absolutely shocked me. I'm not going to give you the numbers. Let's just say they"--the Republicans--"have 50 times as many e-mail addresses as we have. It's unacceptable."