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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Senator threatens Democrats over judges
Senators Rick Santorum (left) and Trent Lott
Mr Santorum and Mr Lott have lost control of the Senate
The approval of federal judges - one of the most emotive issues in US politics - has emerged as a key area of contention as control of the Senate shifts from George W Bush's Republican party to the Democrats.

Republican Senator Rick Santorum has warned that the Senate is "going to have some hard times organising" unless Democrats promise to give Mr Bush's judicial nominees a fair hearing.

I think it's time that President Bush realise that he doesn't have a mandate

Harry Reid,
Democratic Senator
Mr Santorum's comment is being seen as a threat to bring the Senate to a halt through a filibuster - a refusal to yield the floor to another speaker.

With control of the Senate judiciary committee, Democrats can kill Mr Bush' nominations to federal benches before they ever come to the full Senate for confirmation.

The nomination of Supreme Court judges in particular tends to be politically divisive because the justices are the final arbiters of US law and they serve for life.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is to be the new judiciary committee chair, said the body has a responsibility to review presidential nominations.

"These judges are going to be there long after I'm gone, long after President Bush is gone," he told the CBS television programme Face the Nation.

New balance of power

The Senate is adjusting to a change in the balance of power following the decision of Senator Jim Jeffords to leave the Republican party and become an independent. The move gives the Democrats a majority of one.

Senator Jim Jeffords
Mr Jeffords became an independent, supporting the Democrats
Trent Lott, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, issued a memo to his party on Friday calling on them to "begin to wage war today for the election in 2002".

He called the defection of Senator Jeffords "a coup of one" that "trumped the will of the American people".

But Democratic Senator Harry Reid pointed out that Mr Bush was not actually elected by a majority of American voters.

"I think it's time that President Bush realise that he doesn't have a mandate," Senator Reid said.

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See also:

24 May 01 | Americas
Party switch tests US president
25 May 01 | Americas
Profile: Thomas Daschle
24 May 01 | Americas
Senator's move stuns Washington
30 Apr 01 | Americas
Who runs the Bush White House?
24 May 01 | Americas
Q&A: What the Senate switch means
24 May 01 | Business
US investors act on Jeffords move
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