Holder Hearings Begin

The confirmation hearings on attorney general designee Eric Holder begin this morning with many conservatives highly skeptical of his suitability for the job.  

Moreover, Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told me yesterday that Holder is undecided on his vote for or against Holder.  

Specter said, “Let’s see what he has to say.  I made a floor statement which was characterized as very strong, very pointed, but I said at the end that he’s entitled to his day in court.  Let’s see how he responds.”

Conservative Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions told me he had liked Holder but now had some serious concerns. Sessions said, “I liked him in previous dealings and came at this disposed to be deferential to the president-elect’s choice, but he’s going to have to answer some very difficult questions.”  

Sen. Specter is feeling less warmly toward Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) than he has in earlier years.  Specter can’t get Leahy’s cooperation in obtaining documents that Specter and other Republicans believe they need in order to question Holder and to fully inform their votes on his confirmation.  

This is a personal slap at Specter, who told me that when he was chairman he’d never turned down a minority request for documents on a nominee’s qualifications.  

Specter said, “Well, we’re being stymied. The Clinton Library is treating a request that I make as ranking member representing the Republican Caucus as a request under the Freedom of Information Act like any citizen’s.  We’re not getting anything from them.”

Leahy isn’t cooperating.  “And I pressed Leahy to co-sign [the request to the Clinton Library] and he refuses.  He has to sign in order to make it a request from the Committee.”

I asked Specter if he’d ever done that to Leahy when he was chairman.  He said emphatically, “No, no, no.  I always signed on because of my view that the minority had rights to pursue their own questions.  Where it was a technicality about having the Chairman join, I joined all the time.”

The Holder nomination is not — yet — in serious trouble.  But his answers today and tomorrow may push a lot of Republicans to vote against him.  Specter — who usually cooperates with the Democrats on such nominations — may hold the key.  If he votes against Holder, he could draw liberal Republicans such as Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to his position.