Specter Meets With GOP Leaders and Senior Members, Wins Support from Hatch and Lott

Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) made a private appeal to Senate Republican leaders Tuesday to shore up support for his bid to chair the Judiciary Committee, but it remains unclear if he has enough GOP votes to win the powerful chairmanship.

The liberal Pennsylvania Republican made some headway Tuesday when Senators Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) and Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) both said they planned to support his ascension despite widespread concern among conservatives.

A day after winning election to a fifth Senate term November 3, Specter suggested at a post-election news conference that President Bush shouldn’t nominate pro-life judges. He has since distanced himself from the remarks, but conservative outrage hasn’t subsided.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) hosted the meeting with Specter and eight other senior Republicans at his office Tuesday morning. Specter was expected to meet there later Tuesday with the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee.

“I’m not going to discuss with you what I have said within the leadership meeting,” Specter told a pack of more than 30 reporters assembled outside Frist’s office. “I have spoken extensively on this subject to the media, and what goes on with my colleagues I’m not going to discuss.”

Republicans who attended the meeting included Senators Frist, George Allen (Va.), Robert Bennett (Utah), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Jon Kyl (Arizona), John McCain (Arizona), Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Ted Stevens (Alaska).

“We had a good discussion and he’s going to meet later today with the Judiciary Committee,” McConnell told HUMAN EVENTS when asked whether he was supporting Specter’s bid. None of the GOP leaders — Frist, McConnell, Hutchison, Kyl, or Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.) — has publicly backed Specter.

Senators will conduct a formal vote by secret ballot in January, but Republicans expect to know Specter’s fate after their caucus meeting Wednesday. Specter said he would address all Republicans at that meeting in hopes of allaying any concerns.

“I never make predictions. I think it is very unwise,” Specter said after his morning meeting with Hatch. “As you’ve heard me say many times, never count any chickens until all the eggs are hatched. I think it’s very important to this process to let others do the speaking.”

Specter was the only Republican senator to show up for a Judiciary Committee hearing Hatch called Tuesday morning. After the hearing concluded, the two met in private. Hatch said he expected Specter to be a great chairman.

“There’s not nearly the reason to worry that some conservatives have had,” Hatch said. “So does that mean that Arlen’s going to be everything that the far right wants him to be? Well, I’ve found that I’m not everything they want me to be. I think the key is honesty and doing the job in the best possible way. And he’ll do that.”

Gregg and McCain had earlier signaled their support for Specter, and Tuesday, the Senate’s former majority leader, Lott, added his name to the list.

“I’ve worked with him closely for a long time and I find him to be a man of his word,” Lott said. “We didn’t always agree, but I knew where he was, and most of the time, when there was a vote that was needed, he was there.”