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Judiciary Panel GOPers Cave on Specter

Republicans will support the man who “Borked” Bork

Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) last week secured the unanimous support of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee for his election as that committee’s chairman, but conservative activists were not abandoning their fight to keep him from the chair. At a hastily called November 18 press conference attended by all Judiciary Committee Republicans except Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Specter read a statement defending his record as a member of the committee. But Concerned Women for America immediately put out a press release saying Specter’s statement fell "far short of the commitment expected and leaves too many questions unanswered." Specter cannot formally be made chairman until the new Congress convenes in January and the Senate Republican Conference votes by secret ballot to confirm his new position. "I have voted for all of President Bush’s judicial nominees in committee and on the floor, and I have no reason to believe I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy of nomination," said Specter. Two weeks earlier, at a post-election news conference, Specter’s answer to a question about pro-life judges set off a firestorm of grassroots activity. Senators’ offices were inundated with calls and e-mails opposing his ascension. "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely," Specter had said, responding to a question about the likelihood of Bush’s getting his judges through the Senate. Following those remarks, support for Specter was initially limited to moderate Republicans. Members of the Judiciary Committee withheld comment until Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) publicly endorsed Specter. Specter’s press conference did not feature either Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) or Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Neither would commit to supporting Specter earlier in the week. After the November 18 press conference, Human Events Assistant Editor Robert B. Bluey asked Republican Judiciary Committee members if they would still support Specter if he opposed one of Bush’s nominees as he opposed President Reagan’s nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.

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If Sen. Specter were to, as some groups say, "Bork" another nominee, would you withdraw your support? Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.): You know, that’s not even an issue. He’s supported the President and he said in his statement he has no reason to think he can’t support every nominee. That’s really not an issue."

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Would you still support Sen. Specter if he chose to "Bork" one of President Bush’s nominees? Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.): Well, that would be inconsistent with what he has said he would do and what he has committed to do publicly here today.

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If Sen. Specter decided to "Bork" another nominee, would that change your position at all? Sen. Mike DeWine (Ohio): What if what? What if he were to "Bork" or oppose a nominee that came up before the committee? DeWine: Well, that’s a hypothetical question. We’ve looked at him, I’ve watched him now for 10 years on the committee, and I don’t anticipate that’s going to happen. For President Bush, he’s been supportive, very supportive of the nominations. So I fully expect him to support President Bush’s nominees.

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If Sen. Specter were to "Bork" another nominee, would you still support him? Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.): I’m not going to talk about things that I don’t believe are going to happen.

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Are you worried at all that Sen. Specter might "Bork" another nominee? Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah): Look, he’s not going to do that. But I have to say that [Specter’s opposition to Bork] was a sad day to a lot of us who knew Bob Bork so well. On the other hand, Arlen is a very good lawyer and he makes up his own mind on things. I don’t anticipate we’ll have another situation like that, and I think this goes a long way towards making sure we don’t.

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Would you still support Sen. Specter if he "Borked" one of President Bush’s nominees? Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.): I just won’t speculate.

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Editors Note: Robert Bluey interviewed the following Republican senators in the days before the November 18 press conference at which Republican Judiciary Committee members declared their support for Specter. Has Sen. Specter done enough to satisfy you and other Republicans? Sen. John Ensign (Nev.): I wish he would have chosen his comments obviously more carefully. His record in the past has been that he has supported the Bush nominees, and I wish he would have just kept it to that. . . . I fully expect him to support the Bush nominees, but this has just been to me something I wish he would have chosen his words more carefully. I spoke to him on the phone about a week ago and was satisfied with his responses. He said he would fight for the Bush nominees, and the bottom line is to get them to the floor for an up-or-down vote, and that’s what he has promised to do. So are you supporting him then? Ensign: We’re going to see. I’m not going to say one way or the other, other than to say I was satisfied and I also want to hear what he says when the thing comes up. I want to hear what he says in front of everybody.

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Was Sen. Specter able to put to rest some of the concerns he generated with his Republican colleagues? Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.): I’m the chairman of the Senatorial Trust and when we had one of our four trust meetings, he virtually disavowed everything that he had said. I didn’t even see the actual script [of the November 3 press conference], so I don’t know. Then when I talked to him personally, I told him I thought I was going to oppose him. He has stated that he will not hold any nominations in the committee. He would not hold up legislation. My concern was not just judges, it was tort reform. His record isn’t all that bad and I think he has made a commitment to not hold anything up and I think he satisfied the vast majority of the conference. I also believe that Orrin Hatch’s wholehearted endorsement of him virtually eliminated, or certainly reduced, the opposition to him. So do you personally plan to support him then? Inhofe: Well I didn’t say that. Well, that’s what I’m asking. Do you plan to support him? Inhofe: As it is right now, I would still oppose him. But it’s meaningless, however, because I’d probably be the only one.

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Do you support Sen. Specter’s ascension? Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.): Yeah, I do. I’ve worked with him closely for a long time, and I’ve found him to be a man of his word. 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.

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When the Republican Conference takes up Sen. Specter’s bid to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, do you plan to support him? Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.): I’m just going to keep my powdered milk dry on that.

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Will you publicly declare your support for Sen. Specter? Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.): I gave my comments upstairs [at a November 17 GOP leadership meeting]. That’s a decision for the [Judiciary] Committee. [When Santorum was asked at a November 17 press conference, he said: "I don’t want to usurp the power of the committee by making a recommendation one way or the other. To me, this is the committee’s decision. Sen. Specter is meeting with the committee. He’s discussing the matter with the committee. I think it would be presumptuous of me to direct the committee as to who they should appoint as their chairman. That’s not being silent, that’s being deferential to the process that we have in place and have had in place.]

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Written By

Mr. Bluey, a contributing editor to Human Events, is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He maintains a blog at RobertBluey.com.

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