- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday withheld his support of Sen. Arlen Specter to head the Judiciary Committee, and said the Pennsylvania Republican needed to prove to his colleagues this week that he will run the panel impartially and push nominees all the way to a full Senate vote.

“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked Mr. Frist, “Do you support making Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee?”

Mr. Frist responded, “Chris, it’s an issue that we’ll begin to face really this week,” adding that a final decision would not be made until early January.

“Ultimately, the members of that committee will choose whether or not he serves as their chairman,” Mr. Frist said.

Mr. Specter will meet individually this week with his colleagues and members of the Senate leadership to “both explain what he meant and what he would do as chairman,” said Mr. Frist, referring to postelection comments by Mr. Specter that it is unlikely the upper body would confirm pro-life nominees.

“Arlen made some statements the day after the election. They were disheartening to me. They were disheartening to a lot of different people,” said Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican.

Before the election, Mr. Frist signaled his support of Mr. Specter as committee chairman. “Who is going to lead the Judiciary Committee when it considers nominations? Arlen Specter or Pat Leahy?” he said, referring to an Oct. 31 Baltimore Sun article to the ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.

Political observers have speculated that, as chairman, Mr. Specter could support nominees with whom he disagrees on issues such as abortion in the committee, and then vote his pro-choice conscience when the nominee comes up for a full vote in the Senate.

However, Mr. Frist told Fox News that is not sufficient.

“I would expect Chairman Specter to go one step further — if it’s Chairman Specter, whoever that chairman is — and that is to have a strong predisposition to supporting that nominee sent over by President Bush, a Republican president, to a Republican Judiciary Committee,” Mr. Frist said.

There will be “adequate debate and discussion,” but the chairman needs to “take that candidate all the way to the floor and to have a strong predisposition of supporting that candidate, including on the floor of the United States Senate,” Mr. Frist said.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, is stepping down as chairman at the end of this session, during which political parties battled over several judicial nominees because of their pro-life stances. Several were denied a floor vote before the whole Senate.

Mr. Hatch “did everything within his power,” but was blocked by a “tyranny of the minority,” Mr. Frist said in reference to Democrats.

“Totally unacceptable,” Mr. Frist said. “The chairman can’t absolutely guarantee [against Democratic obstruction], but can fight for that and make sure that every, every one of these nominees gets an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate.”

Mr. Specter appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and said he will assure colleagues in upcoming meetings there will be no litmus test on Supreme Court nominees.

“The record is conclusive that I have never done that,” Mr. Specter said.

“I have voted for pro-life nominees,” he said, noting that when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was up for confirmation, the justice “had already voted against Roe v. Wade.” Mr. Specter also said he voted to confirm Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

“When Justice Clarence Thomas came up, I led the fight to confirm Justice Thomas — almost lost my Senate seat in the process,” Mr. Specter said.

“I have supported all of President Bush’s nominees in committee and on the floor. And those go right to the heart of the factual matters of concern,” he said.

Asked whether he would support Justice Thomas as chief justice, Mr. Specter declined to answer, but indicated he would support Mr. Bush’s nominee.

“I don’t think that our votes ought to be on sound bites on national television. I do believe that the president ought to have very substantial deference in his nominations,” Mr. Specter said.

Two Republican senators pledged support for Mr. Specter on the Sunday political talk shows — John McCain of Arizona and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana.

However, neither man is on the Judiciary Committee, which will get the first vote on the new chairman and has conservative members from states that were easily won by President Bush with the help of the religious activists most opposed to Mr. Specter.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, is the only Judiciary member to have issued any degree of public support for Mr. Specter, saying Wednesday that the Pennsylvanian “is likely to be confirmed” if he makes a public vow not to block Bush nominees and addresses the concerns of members of the panel.

Mr. Cornyn has a lifetime rating of 85 percent from the American Conservative Union (ACU).

Other Republican panel members and their ACU lifetime ratings are: Mr. Hatch, 90 percent; Mr. Specter, 43 percent; and Sens. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa, 82 percent; Jon Kyl, Arizona, 97 percent; Mike DeWine, Ohio, 82 percent; Jeff Sessions, Alabama, 98 percent; Lindsey Graham, South Carolina, 91 percent; Larry E. Craig, Idaho, 93 percent; Saxby Chambliss, Georgia, 94 percent.

Mr. Specter is meeting informally with Republican committee members Wednesday to lobby for the chairmanship. Committee chairmen are first voted on by their respective committees, and the results are sent to the full Republican conference for ratification, said Nick Smith, spokesman for Mr. Frist. Historically, the full caucus will vote with the committee’s selection for chairman.

Conservative groups are heavily lobbying senators to block Mr. Specter from heading the committee. Mr. Kyl would be next in the line of seniority for the chairmanship should Mr. Specter step aside.

A “pray-in” is scheduled for tomorrow on Capitol Hill to protest Mr. Specter’s ascension to the chairmanship, and Focus on the Family sent an e-mail to its supporters urging them to contact their senator and express opposition.

“Sen. Specter’s pro-abortion views make him a poor choice to oversee the process of getting President Bush’s judicial nominees approved,” the message said.

However, Mr. Specter is supported by the Rev. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, and the White House has signaled its approval of Mr. Specter as chairman.

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