- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

Sen. Arlen Specter has secured the votes he needs to become Senate Judiciary Committee chairman when the 109th Congress convenes next year, ending a two-week furor that threatened to upend some of the Senate’s most revered traditions.

With unanimous support from his Republican colleagues on the committee, the Pennsylvania senator issued a formal statement yesterday vowing not to “use a litmus test to deny confirmation to pro-life nominees.”

“I have assured the president that I would give his nominees quick committee hearings and early committee votes so floor action could be promptly scheduled,” said Mr. Specter, flanked by all but one of the Republicans on the committee.

“I have voted for all of President Bush’s judicial nominees in committee and on the floor, and I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy of nomination,” he said.

Although the final vote on elevating Mr. Specter to committee chairman will not be held until the new Senate is seated in January, the public endorsement by committee Republicans yesterday practically ensures he will be the panel’s next chairman.

“Arlen Specter will be our next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said current chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican forced to step down because of term limits. “We are pleased to support Arlen in this matter.”

The announcement comes after weeks of public and private statements and negotiations by Mr. Specter aimed at clarifying remarks he made the day after the Nov. 2 elections. Mr. Specter, who is the only pro-choice Republican on the panel, had cast doubt about whether pro-life judicial nominees could be confirmed.

Reaction to his comments was swift and furious, especially from pro-life groups and religious conservatives who are taking credit for Republican victories on Nov. 2. They were hardly mollified by Mr. Specter’s statement yesterday.

“Specter read from a prepared statement but said nothing new or different than what he has said since November 3, as he’s scrambled to ‘clarify’ the statement that got him in all the trouble,” said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America.

Regarding Mr. Specter’s statement that he has “no reason to believe” that he’ll be unable to support Mr. Bush’s nominees, Ms. LaRue said: “You could drive a truck through that loophole.”

Concerns are especially high because the committee soon will handle the nomination for a new attorney general and is widely expected to receive nominations for at least one Supreme Court justice. Also, nine lower court nominees remain hobbled by Democratic filibusters.

Before unanimously agreeing to support Mr. Specter in public yesterday, committee members had contemplated ways to deprive him of the gavel. Consideration focused primarily on bypassing the highly revered seniority system or scrapping the term limits to allow Mr. Hatch to continue.

Even yesterday, committee aides said privately that support for Mr. Specter — in exchange for his written statement — was simply the least unappealing option.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and a member of the committee, stood with Mr. Specter yesterday, possibly recalling when Mr. Specter successfully blocked his nomination to the federal bench 18 years ago.

He noted that Mr. Specter had voted for all of Mr. Bush’s nominees.

“He may or may not agree with them on each one of the issues, but he has supported them,” Mr. Sessions said. “And I think he has the ability to be an outstanding chairman.”

At the meeting yesterday, Mr. Specter’s demeanor was markedly more at ease than it has been in weeks with reporters chronicling his every word. After the press conference, he remained with reporters, answering their questions amicably and even joking with them.

Asked whether the recent brouhaha was one of the toughest battles of his career, Mr. Specter replied: “I wouldn’t say it’s one of the toughest. I’d say it’s been the toughest.”

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