Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, likely will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee on schedule, despite opposition from many conservatives, say insiders familiar with talks among Republican Party leaders.
But first, Mr. Specter must appease Republican leadership and fellow Judiciary Committee members in private meetings today.
Earlier this month, Mr. Specter said pro-life nominees to the Supreme Court will have a difficult time being confirmed in the current political environment. Many conservatives interpreted the remarks as meaning Mr. Specter would not fight vigorously to confirm President Bush’s nominees.
Thousands of letters, e-mails and phone calls continue to pour into Capitol Hill from conservatives demanding that Mr. Specter be barred from the chairmanship because of the statements.
“Specter’s got to fix this and he’s on his way to doing that,” said one Republican aide. “He’s got to reassure leadership that he will fight for President Bush’s nominees.”
Mr. Specter has said he would give all of Mr. Bush’s nominees thorough but swift hearings and votes. He said he has voted in favor of all of Mr. Bush’s nominees, even the 10 who have been filibustered by Democrats.
Republicans note, however, that Mr. Specter is credited with killing the nomination of Robert Bork when President Reagan nominated him to the Supreme Court. He also joined Democrats in blocking the 1986 federal judgeship nomination of Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, who now sits on the Judiciary Committee with Mr. Specter, and will vote in January on whether Mr. Specter should take the gavel.
Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee who plans to meet with Mr. Specter today, said Mr. Specter “will be asked for assurances.”
Mr. DeWine declined to comment on whether he thought Mr. Specter ultimately would become chairman.
Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, supports Mr. Specter, saying he “has a good case to make for why he should be chairman.”
“He is someone who has stood by the president’s nominees for the last four years,” Mr. Gregg said. “And he’s a tough guy who knows how to run a committee and is very effective. And I think he’ll be a strong chairman of that committee and a great benefit to the president as chairman.”
Asked about his prospects around lunchtime yesterday, Mr. Specter replied: “I take 12:30 to 1 off every day from feeling anything.”
Staff writer Brian DeBose contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.