- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2001

Senate Democrats brought the confirmation process to a grinding halt yesterday by walking out of a Judiciary Committee hearing and refusing to vote on key Bush administration nominees.
"This is the start of a knock-down, drag-out fight," Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said afterward.
Democrats are demanding veto authority over federal judge nominees from their home states and Republicans are steadfastly refusing to give it.
"There is little or no reason for this griping by Democrats," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and committee chairman. "I think this is all political."
A frustrated Mr. Hatch snapped at Democrats: "Do you want me to be your chairman or do you want me to be your puppet?"
The committee met yesterday to approve four Justice Department nominees and had nothing to do with federal judges or the procedural issue, called "blue slips," that has caused the gridlock. The nominees include Larry D. Thompson for deputy attorney general and Theodore B. Olson for solicitor general.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said his caucus is unanimous in blocking all Bush nominees until they are given veto power in the 32 states that have at least one Democratic senator.
When Mr. Hatch called for the vote, Democrats left the hearing, leaving the committee one shy of the quorum needed for a vote.
"None of us are seeking a fight. Weve been forced into it," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Democrats want to continue a policy from the end of the Clinton era that allowed the veto of one home-state senator to block a vote by the whole Senate.
Mr. Hatch says he followed the same policy set by Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. The Utah Republican added that 377 judges were approved for Mr. Clinton, only three fewer than President Reagan received, and there were 40 holdovers at the end of the two terms.
Asked at a news conference how many Clinton judicial nominees were scuttled by a blue slip, Mr. Hatch said: "I dont know of any."
But Democrats give a different version of the privileged information.
"I cant count them on my hands and toes, there have been so many," Mr. Schumer said.
According to the June 6, 1989, Biden letter on which the policy is based, if a senator rejected a nominee from his home state, it did not preclude a vote, but was a "significant factor" to be weighed by the committee in its evaluation.
If the administration fails to consult with the home-state senators before submitting a nomination, however, "the nominee will not be considered," the letter said.
Mr. Hatch said that for the entire time that he was chairman during the Clinton administration, he followed the Biden process. When the Clinton administration stopped the consultation process altogether in 1998, he followed the policy and changed the blue-slip language in some cases to allow a home-state senators objection to prevent hearings.
Mr. Bush is expected to send the first batch of judicial nominees to the Senate next week. Democrats say they were not consulted beforehand, so the rule should again apply.
Mr. Hatch concedes that consultation did not take place, but says the administration was unaware of the Senate procedure and has agreed in writing to consult with both Democrats and Republicans in the future. For now, Mr. Hatch said, the administration should get the benefit of the doubt.
"I expect the Bush White House will consult with Democrats. And if they dont, I will apply that rule for your benefit," Mr. Hatch said. "I intend to be fair in the process."
Democrats, however, are not willing to take Republicans or the White House at their word.
"We cannot fall into line when [Mr. Hatch] says: 'Trust me," Mr. Schumer said.
Mr. Leahy said they will insist on the same privilege, and if the process worked in the past, it can work for them in the future.
"I do not want to think that suddenly Senate procedures change because the president has changed," Mr. Leahy said.
Republicans say Democrats are being "obstructionists" and are not willing to review nominees based on their merits.
Democrats devised the strategy at a retreat last week in western Pennsylvania on "how to oppose many good nominees," said Sen. Jon L. Kyl, Arizona Republican.
"Part of what is at play is they are trying to find ways to generically oppose nominees," Mr. Kyl said.
The committee rescheduled the Justice Department nominee votes until next week.


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