Schumer Signals 'Nuclear' War on Nominees

Senate Democrats are preparing to once again filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees despite efforts by Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) to extend an olive branch in hopes of reconciling differences. Liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) dismissed Specter’s gesture Thursday and all but declared war on the nominees Bush resubmitted to the Senate last week.

Hoping to avoid the so-called “nuclear” option that would change the Senate’s filibuster rule, Specter said he would tackle the nomination of William Myers III to the 9th Circuit appeals court next Tuesday. Myers, by Specter’s calculation, is only two votes shy of the 60 needed to avoid a filibuster. He would have 58 votes if all Republicans and three supportive Democrats–Senators Joe Biden (Del.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.)–vote for his confirmation. Needing only two other Democrats, Specter suggested Schumer could be a possible convert.

“Senator Schumer has made the public comment that there ought to be balance on all of the circuits, and the 9th Circuit is a very liberal circuit,” Specter told reporters. “I think William Myers would give some balance to the 9th Circuit, and that is going to be one of the arguments that I am going to make.”

But only moments after Specter concluded his wide-ranging 40-minute press briefing in the Capitol, Schumer took center stage to declare his opposition to Myers–and the other six nominees whom Democrats filibustered in Bush’s first term. “Unless there’s new and dramatic information, we feel nothing has changed and they should continue to be blocked,” Schumer said in response to a question from HUMAN EVENTS. “In fact, I said the President nominating them is sort of a poke in the eye.”

Schumer said Myers’s record was “off the deep end” when it came to the environment. The former Interior Department solicitor was filibustered last July primarily for his prior lobbying work on behalf of mining and grazing interests. “You know, we are talking to our senators, and I think it will be hard for them to pick up the other two [votes for Myers]. And Myers is an unusual case because a couple of people had committed to him before we knew that the president was renominating. I think he’d have the easiest chance of all of them, and I don’t think he has the votes yet either.”

Without the support of two additional Democrats, Myers almost certainly faces a filibuster, as is the case with the other nominees, whom Democrats consider more controversial. Even though Specter insists on moving Myers through the Judiciary Committee first, it is unclear if he will be the first nominee brought to the floor for a vote. Other Republicans have privately said they would prefer one of two female nominees: Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen or California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, who is black. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) has declined to reveal his intentions.

When Specter was confronted Thursday with the possibility that Frist could take a different course, the Judiciary chairman responded: “Whether the majority leader would want to bring somebody to the floor is obviously something only he could answer. But my sense is he is willing to give the committee a reasonable period of time to try to work it through. I do know Senator Frist wants to avoid the confrontation if he possibly can.”

A month ago, Specter told HUMAN EVENTS he didn’t see the need to hold hearings for all of the nominees Bush resubmitted to the Senate. He singled out only two–Defense Department counsel William Haynes and Brigham Young University counsel Thomas Griffith–who would likely need hearings. But since then, Specter has taken a more cautious approach, as evidenced by Myers, who now faces his second hearing next Tuesday.

“My preference would be not to have hearings, and there is good precedent not to have hearings,” Specter said Thursday. “But when somebody comes to me on the other side and says, ‘There’s some issue I’d like to explore,’ for example, [William] Haynes, deputy general counsel for the Department of Defense, on what has happened on the issues of torture, there’s a reason we’ll have a hearing. If I see daylight that a hearing might be productive, I’ll have a hearing. So I’m going to take them one at a time.”

Specter also used the occasion to outline his views on the so-called “nuclear” option, which would alter the Senate’s filibuster rule to exclude judicial confirmations from the 60-vote supermajority needed for legislation. Specter called the Democrats’ use of the filibuster on nominees “unprecedented,” but he refused to commit to changing the rule.

“I have not made a judgment on it,” Specter said. “As I’ve said before, I’d prefer not to come to that bridge, and I’m certainly not going to jump off that bridge until I come to it. I’m going to exercise every last ounce of my energy to solve this problem without the nuclear option. If we have the nuclear option, the Senate will be in turmoil and the Judiciary Committee will be hell.”