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November 6, 2004
Specter's Folly

Arlen Specter stuck his foot squarely in his mouth just hours after winning election in Pennsylvania, suggesting in his comments to the press that under his presumed leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee, George Bush should take care not to nominate anyone except middle-of-the-road candidates. The uproar from the conservative base has threatened to derail Specter's ascension to the chair and has caused the GOP's Senate contingent to wonder at the best option for response:

Republican lawmakers and top Senate aides, speaking privately for the most part, said the uproar from the right was becoming an impediment for Mr. Specter, a Pennsylvania lawmaker who has coveted the chairmanship. They said while it was likely he would still get the post, it was no longer a certainty.

"He is not out of the woods,'' said one Senate aide who is closely monitoring developments on the Judiciary Committee, echoing a sentiment expressed by Republican senators and other party officials. ...

The outpouring illustrated how the party's conservative wing has been emboldened by the White House victory and the strengthening of Republican majorities in Congress, potentially raising new hazards for moderate Republicans who might want to break from the president or House and Senate leadership on major issues.

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill said the attempt to quickly exert that influence could work in Mr. Specter's favor. They said that after an energizing election, senators would not necessarily want their first action to be jettisoning Mr. Specter under pressure from outside groups. "We need to show some discipline and not overreact,'' one said.

New webistes have already sprung up exhorting conservatives to lobby the other Judiciary Committee members to bypass Specter and instead nominate the more reliable Jon Kyl, next in seniority, to the chair. The evangelicals that consider the millions of abortions that proceed unfettered each year to be their primary domestic issue will not be pleased to see a pro-choice litmus test applied to Bush's nominations by a member of their own party. Specter has already backpedaled, claiming that he had been misunderstood and pointing out that he voted in support of every nominee Bush sent to the Senate.

Both sides of this internecine fight need to slow down and think this through. The anti-abortion activists need to reread Specter's original statement. As Specter explained later, he only stated that any nominee that didn't support the continuance of Roe v Wade would have a difficult time getting passage, although he wasn't artful in explaining that objective fact. Specter has voted in support of Bush's nominees in the past and probably would continue to do so.

However, the timing of Specter's comments certainly call the Senator's judgement into question, explanations or no. Within hours of Bush's re-election, he mananged to singlehandedly create a huge controversy without even having a nomination in front of the committee. Moreoever, Specter's notion that he would serve as a gatekeeper on this process usurps the presidential prerogative for nominating candidates, a curious thing to do to a man who endorsed Specter for his winning candidacy. Speaking of that, Bush's support for Specter was supposed to allow Specter to help carry Pennsylvania for Bush on November 2nd, which Specter failed to deliver. Causing problems after dropping the ball should make the GOP wonder why Specter should chair any committee, let alone Judiciary.

After tossing Trent Lott out of his leadership position, the Republicans have to be careful not to give the knee-jerk reaction and bounce Specter just because of one bad press conference. They should give this some time to settle down before making a decision; after all, no Supreme Court openings are before the committee at the moment. But based on Specter's performance and lack of political judgement, and because his unfortunate statements have given the Democrats an excuse to filibuster anything coming from Judiciary, I think Specter has to go.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 6, 2004 12:47 AM

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