- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2005

Senate Republicans are expressing concerns that Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter will defy party leaders and oppose the so-called “nuclear option” to end Democratic filibusters against President Bush’s judicial nominees.

The Pennsylvania Republican — who was nearly passed over for the committee chairmanship because of his independent ways — says publicly that he is undecided about whether he’ll vote with Majority Leader Bill Frist and Republicans to limit filibusters of judicial nominations.

But a Senate speech last week in which Mr. Specter advised senators to ignore “party loyalty” has some Republicans convinced that he might break party ranks — a move that could doom Republican support for overriding the filibusters.

“He all but said he would buck Republican leadership on this,” one Republican Judiciary Committee aide said.

Republicans hold a 55-seat majority in the Senate. Other Republicans, including Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, already have expressed doubts about changing the rules to limit filibusters of judicial nominees. If Mr. Specter sides with Democrats, Republicans would be denied a crucial vote needed to make the rule change and the chairman’s prestige would be added to the Democratic side of the dispute.

In a lengthy floor speech Thursday, Mr. Specter lamented the stalemate in the Senate between filibustering Democrats and Republicans who are threatening to use a parliamentary procedure — which they call the “constitutional option” — to prohibit such filibusters against judicial nominees.

“On these critical issues with these cataclysmic consequences, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to study the issues and to vote their consciences independent of party dictation,” Mr. Specter said.

He closed his 45-minute speech by invoking the history of the Senate as the world’s “greatest deliberative body.”

“Thought requires independence, not response to party loyalty or any other form of dictation,” he said. “The lessons of our best days as a nation should serve as a model today for senators to vote their consciences on the confirmation of judges and on the constitutional/nuclear option.”

His admonition was seen by some Republicans as running counter to efforts by Mr. Frist to build support for the rule change. Republicans objected to Mr. Specter’s suggesting that the proposed change is comparable to the Democratic filibusters.

“He treats them as if they are equal — equally bad,” said one Republican aide. “He made no distinction between unprecedented, unconstitutional filibusters and a precedented, constitutional ruling by the Senate.”

Mr. Specter said yesterday that he is working hard to get Mr. Bush’s nominees confirmed and that he is trying to break the impasse without drastic measures.

“Let Republicans be convinced it’s the right vote and that’s fine,” he said. “I can’t raise hell with Democrats for their party straitjacket if the Republicans are doing the same thing.”

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