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January 21, 2005
The Spectre Of Specter Rises Again

Arlen Specter may find himself back on the hotseat again, according to The American Spectator (hat tip: CQ reader Caleb). Specter gained the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee only after a brief but intense controversy stirred up by Specter's warning on judicial nominees to President Bush. Now his own hiring practices have come under attack after selecting a senior aide that has strong ties to the same groups that attacked Bush's nominees in the past:

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter went back on his word to Republican caucus members and conservative groups alike when he recently hired Hannibal G. Williams II Kemerer, who until recently was the NAACP's assistant general counsel. Specter hired Kemerer against the wishes of his senior Judiciary Committee staff. "We warned him this was going to cause trouble, but Specter said it was his committee, we are his staff, and he's going to do what he believes is right," says a Judiciary Committee staffer.

Kemerer was a protg of Elaine Jones, who three years ago, as head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, lobbied Sen. Ted Kennedy to delay confirmation of many of President Bush's judicial nominees to a federal circuit court where her group had pending litigation. When Jones and Kennedy's deal was revealed, she was forced to resign.

Specter hired Kemerer to deal specifically with the nominations and vetting of federal judicial nominees, a position many conservatives were led to believe by Specter would go, at the very least, to a Republican, and most likely to a conservative.

Majority leader Bill Frist finally endorsed Specter for the chair after extracting public promises from Specter to approve and promote all future judicial nominees from the Bush Administration. If this is how Specter plans to start, then Frist needs to get Specter either back on the bus or kick him under it. In fact, the Prowler says that Frist may be inclined to do just that:

As for Senate Republican leadership, it is believed that Sen. Bill Frist is not necessarily inclined to prevent his caucus from taking steps either to punish Specter or to leave him twisting in the wind. "When Specter was worried about his job, you didn't see Frist out there patting him on the back and telling him it would be okay," says a staffer on the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Frist was very fair and made Specter earn it. Now Specter has pissed all that good will away, and we want blood."

And they may well get it. Rick Santorum, who collegially stood by his fellow Pennsylvanian, will come under withering attack from his fellow conservatives in the GOP caucus if he doesn't repudiate that support, and the Prowler indicates he probably will, and soon. Jon Kyl and John Cornyn plan on holding private meetings with Republican senators to see how much support can be gathered for disciplinary action against Specter.

When the issue first came up, I counseled caution and cooler heads, as I knew that this session would get bloody enough without an internecine fight. Harry Reid has already proved that, with Barbara Boxer challenging Ohio's electors and Robert Byrd delaying Condi Rice's confirmation. However, that does not and should not give Specter a sense of carte blanche to roll over the will of the vast majority of his caucus in staffing the Judiciary Committee. I advised people to give Specter a chance to prove himself. He obviously has failed the test, if this report is correct. Frist needs to take the appropriate action immediately if Specter doesn't remove Kemerer.

UPDATE: Well, I expected e-mail like this:

You supported Specter, and you got what you asked for.

Now you want to whine about getting what you asked for?

You are approaching unexpected levels of hypocrisy, in my view.

Mr. G.

I don't think that I "supported" Specter; I acknowledged that his comments indicated a problem. I just didn't want the dispute to wind up splitting the GOP caucus and hoped that Frist would gain control over the Pennsylvanian. In fact, this was my first post on the matter:

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.

Even later, I wrote this, which I hardly consider a ringing endorsement:

If we start demanding ideological purity, we will drive off a significant level of support not only for Bush in the Senate but from the electorate as a whole. Why did the Democrats lose their majority status in the first place? We've spent the entire presidential election lamenting the loss of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, opposition members that supported a strong national defense and foreign policy. The International ANSWER wing of the Democratic Party drove them off over the last years of their majority status when they demanded a politically-correct party line and brooked no dissent. ...

If we want to maintain our ascendancy, we need to develop the maturity to allow those who agree with us on 75% of the issues to feel as though they belong in the GOP. Specter has already been put on notice, and as long as he has something to lose (the chair), he will be pressured to support the President's legislative agenda and judicial nominations. If he has nothing left to lose, we face not only six years of obstructionism by Specter but likely a coalition of centrist GOP Senators that will coalesce to hold the GOP majority hostage in the next two.

I did say that the GOP would be better off with him in harness than on the loose, and in that I may have been proved wrong, although it's not over yet. To suggest that I supported Specter and his mutiny is just incorrect.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 21, 2005 12:30 PM

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