All eyes are now on the so-called “Gang of 14” — the bipartisan group of senators who made the deal that ended the judicial filibusters earlier this year — as the Senate moves toward confirmation hearings for federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr.
Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat and key leader in the group, said yesterday that he expected members to talk today in order to decide whether to meet now or wait until the Senate Judiciary Committee has had an opportunity to consider the nomination.
“We don’t want to wait too long; we don’t want to move too quickly,” he said. “I don’t particularly want to set any tone that we’re going to prejudge anything at this point.”
Two Republican members of the Gang of 14 last night spoke positively of Mr. Bush’s pick.
“It’s a good choice,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican. When asked whether Judge Roberts could be confirmed easily, Mr. Warner told the Associated Press, “I wouldn’t predict anything, but it’s certainly a good place to start.”
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, called Judge Roberts “someone of extraordinary intellect [who] has a brilliant legal mind and received bipartisan support” to serve on the D.C. federal appeals court.
She expressed a hope to “remove his nomination from the arena of interest-group politics” and focus on “his professional qualifications, judicial temperament and integrity.” She said that the Senate should “proceed with a timely confirmation process.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republican sources said Judge Roberts will make “courtesy calls” to key senators today. He also may visit Capitol Hill today to meet with Senate leadership and top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, such as Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member on the committee.
Judge Roberts would be joined on Capitol Hill by former Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, who has been assigned as his “sherpa” to guide him through the upcoming confirmation hearings.
While no schedule has been set, insiders expect that confirmation hearings will not begin until late August or early September, when Congress returns from a monthlong recess. Those hearings — including witness testimony — will likely last almost a week.
In the meantime, investigators will scour Judge Roberts’ background and lawyers on both sides of the aisle will comb through every opinion he has written and track down every public comment.
But even before President Bush announced his nominee last night, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and influential member of the Judiciary Committee, went to the Senate floor to express his dismay with the process so far.
“I must admit to some disappointment that President Bush did not do more to consult with the Senate on this pick because, as many of us have said all along, it is such consultation that helps ensure a smooth confirmation process and a unified vote,” Mr. Schumer said. “Had we been given some names beforehand, we would have been able to do some due diligence before any announcement, and be able to suggest to the president who might quickly succeed and who might face a tougher road to confirmation.”
Mr. Nelson had a different view.
“Every Democrat I’ve spoken to, particularly of the Gang of 14, has been very positive about the president’s reaching out,” he told reporters. “And I think that speaks well for the Gang of 14 putting the advice-and-consent clause in the agreement to reach out to the president. I think in turn he’s reached back, and I think people have been very positive toward that.”