George Bush made the first Cabinet-level selection of his second term, nominating Alberto Gonzalez, Jr for Attorney General. Gonzalez will replace John Ashcroft, who resigned on Election Day. Unfortunately, given Gonzalez’ history, I suspect that Gonzalez will also replace Ashcroft as a lightning rod:
In tapping Gonzales for the post, Bush picked a fellow Texan who has stirred controversy himself for his role in memos condoning the possible torture of terrorist suspects and arguing that prisoners captured in Afghanistan are not protected by the Geneva Conventions. But the soft-spoken lawyer also has been described as a relative moderate whose conservative credentials are sometimes viewed with suspicion by Bush’s more rightist supporters.
Gonzalez didn’t write the first memo mentioned, nor did he endorse it, but the Post reported that the Justice Department consulted heavily with the White House before drafting it. Both cases give ammunition to partisans in Congress for attempting to derail the nomination, or at the very least turning it into a television spectacle and reopening the mudslinging over Abu Ghraib. If that wasn’t enough, conservatives will grumble, as the Post put it, at Gonzalez’ centrism on social issues.
It seems to me that Bush did little for himself politically with this selection. Perhaps Rudy Giuliani and Larry Thompson made it known that they were not interested, but in the short time frame that the decision was made, it simply appears that Gonzalez was the pick all along. Either Giuliani or Thompson would have had a much easier time going through the confirmation process. Giuliani’s star quality would have made him a highly effective proponent for the Patriot Act renewal, and his track record would have lent more trust to its implementation. Thompson would have been a smooth transition, professional and low-key, whose conservative bent would have kept Bush’s base happy.
While I believe Gonzalez to be qualified to do the job, I don’t think he was the most effective pick. Look for more challenges and partisan sniping from both the confirmation process and the Patriot Act renewal campaign in the upcoming session.
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.