- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

Republicans have picked Henry Saad — President Bush’s judicial nominee from Michigan who is of Arab descent — as the face of their next high-profile nominations battle.

If Democrats continue to block the nomination, Republicans aim to capitalize on it during the next presidential election with the large Arab community in Michigan, a state viewed as crucial to Mr. Bush’s re-election.

“He will be the first Arab-American on the federal bench,” said Manuel Miranda, who handles judicial nominations for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. “If Democrats want to filibuster Henry Saad, that’s their business. And then it will become our business.”

Judge Saad, a Michigan appellate judge, is nominated to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but his nomination has been blocked by Michigan’s two Democratic senators. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow have not stated the particular reasons for their opposition to Mr. Saad or any of the other three Michigan nominees they are now blocking. Rather, they say, they are retaliating against Republicans for the similarly poor treatment of President Bill Clinton’s judicial nominees from Michigan.

“The efforts of our Republican colleagues to make a partisan political issue out of the situation surrounding Michigan vacancies on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is regrettable,” Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow said in a joint statement. “We have proposed a process that could lead to bipartisan compromise to fill the Michigan vacancies on the 6th Circuit and repeat that we are willing to work with our Michigan Republican colleagues to resolve this issue.”

That compromise entails confirming two of Mr. Clinton’s Michigan nominees to the federal bench who are particularly supported by Mr. Levin.

Despite the opposition from Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow — traditionally, opposition from the home state senators is enough to stall a nominee indefinitely — Republicans are proceeding with a hearing Wednesday for Judge Saad before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If the Democratic blockade continues, Republicans plan to employ the same strategy they used with Miguel Estrada, Mr. Bush’s nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals who is Hispanic. With mixed success, Republicans are using Mr. Estrada’s stymied nomination as a battle cry among Hispanics, the fastest growing minority group in America.

“Just because Mr. Saad thinks a little differently than [Democrats] do, he’s no longer welcome in their tent,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican. “If that’s their vision of inclusion in America, then I don’t want any part of it. Shame on them.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and member of the Judiciary panel, defends his Democratic colleagues, saying their opposition at this point has nothing to do with Judge Saad or any of the other Michigan Bush nominees.

“They’re just looking for fair treatment,” Mr. Durbin said.

He also derided attempts by Republicans to use the Judge Saad issue to garner support with Americans of Arab descent.

“They’re just trying to fire up any groups they want to vote Republican,” he said. “It’s become a laughing matter on the Democratic side.”

All this is playing out in one of the states targeted by Mr. Bush as being crucial to his re-election.

Last week marked his 10th visit to Michigan, home to the highest concentration of people with Arab roots outside the Middle East. And as usual, Mr. Bush visited Dearborn, the Detroit suburb that’s the heart of the state’s Arab community.

Of the 400,000 Arab-descendant Americans in Michigan, 150,000 are active voters, according to Nasser Beydoun, executive director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

Those voters could prove crucial in a state where a poll recently published in the Detroit News found Mr. Bush’s economic approval rating teetering at 47 percent.

Mr. Bush wants to reverse a trend of Republican presidential candidates doing poorly in the nation’s eighth-largest state.

No Republican nominee has won the state in 15 years. Mr. Bush lost the state in 2000 by five percentage points.

Mike Cox, Michigan’s Republican attorney general, said Judge Saad is widely admired in the state, in which supporters include union bosses and politicians on both sides of the aisle.

“His is a real Horatio Alger story,” Mr. Cox said.

Born in the United States to parents of Lebanese descent, Judge Saad is the first person in his family to attend college. His father was a welder at a Chrysler plant.

Judge Saad, 55, has had a successful career as a lawyer and has been a state judge since 1994. He was first nominated to the federal bench by Mr. Bush’s father a decade ago, but was blocked by Senate Democrats.

However, turning Judge Saad into a political issue in the Arab community does not guarantee that they will turn out for Mr. Bush in 2004, Mr. Beydoun said.

While many approve of Mr. Bush’s policies in the Middle East, he said, a growing number are concerned that the war on terrorism is trampling civil liberties here at home, especially for Americans of Arab descent.

“It’s a sour note,” Mr. Beydoun said. “The foreign policy issues in the Middle East are a point of interest, but the civil liberties issues at home are a major concern.

“We’re proud of [Judge Saads] achievements,” he added. “But I don’t think anyone will fall on his sword for him. The issues are bigger than Judge Saad.”

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