IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Specter gains crucial support to head panel

Senator Arlen Specter on Thursday gained the crucial support of Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to become the panel’s chairman.
Senator Arlen Specter holds a press conference at the U.S. Capitol
Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa., listens during a news conference Thursday at the Capitol in Washington. In the background are Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, right.Shaun Heasley / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sen. Arlen Specter on Thursday won the support of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republicans to be their chairman next year, surviving complaints from abortion opponents who lobbied to skip over him in favor of a conservative.

“I have assured the president that I would give his nominees quick committee hearings and early committee votes,” Specter said at a news conference where outgoing chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the panel’s Republican were unanimous in backing the Pennsylvania moderate.

“I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy” of the federal bench, Specter told reporters.

He read from a statement he wrote that was cleared painstakingly in advance by committee members as well as the GOP leadership, who are determined to confirm Bush’s second-term nominees, possibly including a Supreme Court vacancy.

Even so, Specter said he felt no pressure to make the commitments he made.

Democrats have successfully blocked 10 of Bush’s first-term judicial nominees, while permitting confirmation of more than 200. Republicans sought to make a campaign issue of the political combat, accusing Democrats of obstructionism.

The GOP gained four seats on Nov. 2, defeating Democratic Leader Tom Daschle at home in South Dakota in the process. Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee told reporters earlier this week he had opened discussions with Sen. Harry Reid, the new Democratic leader in hopes of easing the path to confirmation for Bush’s second-term appointments.

Frist and others have long held out the option of seeking a change in Senate procedures to strip Democrats of their ability to filibuster judicial appointments — a tactic that obliges supporters to command 60 votes instead of a simple majority.

Several sources said that inside the closed-door GOP meetings in recent days, Specter has been prodded to declare his support for such a change.