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November 14, 2004
Frist Takes Hard Line On Specter

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist declined to actively support Arlen Specter, telling Fox News Sunday that Specter had to agree to back all of George Bush's judiciary nominees if he expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee:

A Republican senator who has questioned whether an abortion opponent could win approval to the U.S. Supreme Court must agree to back President Bush's nominees if he is to head the committee acting on those nominations, the Senate's Republican leader said.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, in line to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has yet to make a persuasive case that he should head the panel, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said on "Fox News Sunday."

This issue had quieted down somewhat over the past few days, and it looked like Specter might settle into the chairmanship chastened but safely. This looks like a moderate escalation in the battle -- a loyalty requirement that effectively puts Specter on permanent probation. While that may play well to the red-meat conservative base, if Frist is serious it may also serve as a final straw to the center-left Republicans that make up the first solid majority they've had in decades.

Frist needs to be careful with this situation. Up to now, Specter understood that he would be under tremendous scrutiny; he's had to beg for his job on the pages of the Wall Street Journal and issue one reassuring statement after another to defuse the crisis. No one doubts that these concessions were necessary, and that the problem is one of Specter's own creation. But to publicly demand that kind of concession amounts to humiliation, and one that Specter may not endure. If Specter decides to rebel against this demand, he will lose the chair, but he may succeed in peeling off a significant part of the Senate GOP from Bush's control -- a potential disaster for the second term.

It's time for cooler heads to prevail on both sides to calm the rhetoric. Specter had all but run up the white flag before, and the GOP had him under their thumb. Frist may have overplayed the hand today.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 14, 2004 11:19 AM

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