Democrats say the courtesy calls from President Bush and his top aide, while appreciated, fall far short of the advice and consent consultations they expect before Bush announces a Supreme Court nominee.
Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois got a call Wednesday from White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who is with Bush in Europe for the Group of Eight summit.
Card also has called Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Charles Schumer of New York and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, but no names of possible nominees were mentioned, according to the lawmakers’ aides.
The Democrats said they want to know more — specifically, whom the president is considering — before Bush sends his first Supreme Court nomination to the Republican-controlled Senate for confirmation.
“To be meaningful, consultation should include who the president is really considering so we can give responsive and useful advice,” Kennedy said.
A name in ‘political mainstream’
Durbin said he “stressed the importance of finding a nominee in the political mainstream.” In a statement, the senator said he welcomed the White House effort “to reach out in a bipartisan manner and actively consult” with lawmakers from both parties.
Bush and White House aides have spoken with senators since Friday, when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced she would retire once her successor is confirmed.
Among the first to get a call from Bush was Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on the nomination.
After voting as a bloc to stop several of Bush’s appeals court choices, Democrats are demanding that the president consult with them before announcing a nominee.
“The logic is that if there is consultation, if there is real consultation, the president will wind up nominating a consensus mainstream nominee,” said Schumer’s spokesman, Israel Klein.
No-filibuster pledge in effect
An agreement in May by seven Democratic senators and seven Republicans includes a pledge not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, they agreed to oppose attempts by GOP leaders to change procedures that Democrats have used to block nominees.
Nelson played a pivotal role in bringing those 14 senators together; Durbin, Kennedy and Schumer are on the Judiciary Committee. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also on the committee, got a call from the White House, too.
Nelson told Card that Bush’s “No. 1 goal should be getting a good jurist who won’t be an activist judge” and that they would talk more once the president makes it back to Washington, said David DiMartino, the senator’s spokesman.
Bush has said he would consult with senators on both sides. Republicans say the White House will not be able to do enough to satisfy Democrats and liberal groups.
Reid: ‘Gonzalez is qualified’
“For some senators and outside groups, no amount of consultation will ever be sufficient,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is on the Judiciary Committee.
One possible candidate is the current attorney general. “Alberto Gonzales is qualified,” Reid said, although he acknowledged, “I don’t know if he’d have an easy way through.”
In Las Vegas on Wednesday, Reid chided conservatives for criticizing Gonzales while President Bush was overseas, saying, “People here have gone a little too far.” Reid voted against Gonzales’ confirmation as attorney general earlier this year.
Leahy and Reid are expected to go to the White House on Monday along with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and the committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.