Sen. Arlen Specter, who set off a firestorm of controversy last week among conservatives who interpreted certain remarks as a warning to President Bush not to nominate pro-life judicial candidates, pledged yesterday to treat the president’s choices fairly and quickly.
Mr. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican next in line to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee, said his earlier remarks had been taken out of context and he would not attempt to impose a “litmus test.”
Karl Rove, senior White House political adviser, said Mr. Bush has been assured that all court nominees will be treated fairly.
“Senator Specter is a man of his word, and we’ll take him at his word if he becomes chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Mr. Rove told “Fox News Sunday.”
“He told the president, ‘I will make certain your nominees receive a hearing. I’ll make certain they receive a vote, and the appellate nominees will be brought to the floor,’” Mr. Rove said.
For his own part, the Pennsylvania Republican yesterday said he would not require nominees to back his stance on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision making abortion a constitutional right.
“Although I am pro-choice, I have supported many pro-life nominees,” Mr. Specter said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“That doesn’t mean that I have a litmus test, or that I don’t give appropriate deference to whom the president nominates.”
Mr. Specter made his initial statements during a Wednesday night press conference, as he was discussing the success of Democrats in blocking the confirmation of Mr. Bush’s judicial picks who are pro-life.
“When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely. The president is well-aware of what happened when a bunch of his nominees were sent up with the filibuster. And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning,” he said.
Mr. Specter said yesterday that his comments were not intended to serve as a warning to Mr. Bush and that “my record is pretty plain.”
“The fact is that I have supported all of President Bush’s nominees in committee and on the floor. I have never applied a litmus test. I have supported Chief Justice [William H.] Rehnquist for confirmation as chief justice when I knew he had voted against Roe v. Wade,” said Mr. Specter, noting that he also supported Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
However, Mr. Specter opposed the nomination of Judge Robert Bork, who was chosen by President Reagan, but rejected by the Senate.
The Senate requires 60 votes to end debate and vote on a judge, and Republicans now hold 55 seats, which, Mr. Specter said, is not enough to break the Democrats’ logjam.
“The concern as to confirmation is really the recognition of a political fact,” said Mr. Specter, who urged Mr. Bush to reach out to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.