- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2000

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott Thursday stopped a Republican effort to block President Clinton's judicial nominees, a day after Mr. Clinton appointed to the Federal Election Commission a Republican who favors unlimited campaign donations.

"I don't think we would be able to go all year without confirming any nominees," Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, told Sen. James M. Inhofe on the Senate floor. "In some of these states, there truly is a need for more judges."

Mr. Lott's office denied there was a connection between his action and Mr. Clinton's appointment of Bradley Smith to the FEC. That appointment is raising alarms among Democrats because Mr. Smith advocates repealing the federal law that governs campaign contributions.

In a 1997 newspaper column, Mr. Smith wrote that when "a law is in need of continual revision to close a series of ever-changing 'loopholes,' it is probably the law, and not the people, that is in error."

Mr. Clinton, whose 1996 re-election was scandalized by illegal fund-raising, called for campaign finance reform two weeks ago in his State of the Union address.

A White House spokesman said Mr. Clinton nominated Mr. Smith who would succeed retiring Commissioner Lee Ann Elliot to the FEC on Wednesday in part to persuade Senate Republicans to approve his judicial nominees.

"At a time when we're asking the Senate to move forward on a host of judicial nominations, I think it's important to recognize that the Senate has a role in selecting members of the FEC," said presidential spokesman Jake Siewert.

Mr. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, and at least 13 Republican colleagues vowed late last year to block all Clinton judicial nominees after they said the president violated an agreement on recess appointments. Mr. Inhofe said he continues to use "holds" on judicial nominees to insist at least on roll-call votes.

Mr. Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, has advocated repealing the Federal Election Campaign Act entirely. He said in a recent magazine interview that he would not object to a tobacco company giving $1 million to the Republican National Committee or director Steven Spielberg donating $5 million to the Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Smith was recruited for the FEC post by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who led the successful opposition last fall to a ban on unregulated "soft money" campaign donations. The bill was proposed by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.

The FEC enforces financial disclosure requirements and contribution limits in federal elections. The six-member commission is evenly split among Republicans and Democrats; terms are for six years.

A liberal government watchdog group Thursday accused Mr. Clinton of "caving in" to Mr. Lott in a "back-room deal" and pledged to fight the nomination.

"President Clinton is nominating someone to the FEC who has complete and utter hostility to the laws he would be charged with enforcing," said Scott Harshbarger, president of Common Cause. "It's another example of saying one thing and doing another."

Lott spokesman John Czwartacki said there was no deal between Mr. Lott and the White House.

"There was no quid pro quo," Mr. Czwartacki said. "The timing of it is not related to anything else."

Of the Smith nomination, Mr. Czwartacki said, "It certainly was nice of [the White House] to remove a burr from underneath our saddle. We're very appreciative."

Mr. McConnell had submitted Mr. Smith's name to the White House about a year ago. While the president stalled on the nomination, Mr. Lott and Mr. McConnell had blocked the appointment of Richard C. Holbrooke as ambassador to the United Nations.

Senate Republicans led by Mr. Inhofe pledged in December to block all of Mr. Clinton's judicial nominees for the remainder of his presidency. They were reacting to Mr. Clinton's appointment during a congressional recess of Sarah Fox to the National Labor Relations Board, saying the president had not submitted her name before the recess in accordance with a written agreement.

But Mr. Lott told Mr. Inhofe Thursday that he would not honor all "holds" on judicial nominations. Mr. Lott said he must consider "other factors" as majority leader, including the federal court caseload and the need to work with the White House.

"I'm not one that gets all weepy-eyed about having more federal judges," Mr. Lott said. But he added that "hard-working federal judges cannot cope" with growing caseloads in some states.

"It is one of those burdensome, delicate balances that the majority leader has to assume the responsibility for," Mr. Lott said.

Mr. Inhofe said he believes he is taking "the correct reaction" to the White House violating its promise on recess appointments.

"He's absolutely not backing down," said Inhofe spokesman Gary Hoitsma.

Mr. Lott said Mr. Inhofe's vigilance had kept the president's recess appointments in check.

"There's no doubt in my mind that his efforts … had an impact on the number of recess appointments that the administration did in fact go forward with," Mr. Lott said. "In fact, the president indicated as much to me that they had wanted to do more, but they showed restraint and they realized that it could cause even more serious problems."

Mr. Lott also said that when Mr. Inhofe informed him in November of his plans to hold the White House accountable for unannounced recess appointments, "I was dealing with a lot of different issues and perhaps should have paid a little bit more attention … to the lists that were being discussed."

At the White House Thursday, Hispanic lawmakers said Mr. Clinton promised them he would apply pressure on Congress to act on three Hispanic judicial candidates who have been waiting up to four years for confirmation.

"The president is 100 percent behind our effort to push these nominations forward," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, California Democrat.

"I think the argument that, you know, we can't get something done because it's an election year just doesn't hold water," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Thursday. "We have 39 judges now pending."

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