It appears that the debate over Arlen Specter’s assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee has played out exactly right. Conservative activists raised an outcry over Specter’s apparent warning to President Bush, immediately after the election, not to appoint pro-life judges. (I’m not sure that was a fair interpretation of what Specter said, but his record made it a plausible one.) Conservative Republicans applied pressure where it counts, on Majority Leader Bill Frist, and that pressure seems to have brought about the desired results. The Associated Press reports on Frist’s and Specter’s appearances on this morning’s news programs:
Sen. Arlen Specter must prove to his Republican colleagues that he is the right man to head the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday.
Specter, R-Pa., will make his case to GOP colleagues this week when Congress returns for a postelection session.
Frist, R-Tenn., said he expected a chairman to understand that he is responsible “to the feelings, the wishes, the beliefs, the values, the procedures that are held by the majority of that committee.”
He added that Specter, as chairman, “has a clear obligation … to take what the president nominates (and) get that nomination through committee.”
Frist would not say if he backed Specter for the job.
Specter said he already has spoken to many other senators. “There has been a concern as to whether I would apply a litmus test to Supreme Court nominees, and the record is conclusive that I have never done that. I have voted for pro-life nominees,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
Frist said Specter’s comments were “disheartening to me. They were disheartening to a lot of different people,” Frist told “Fox News Sunday.” Specter has since emphasized that as chairman, he would give all nominees fair and expeditious treatment.
Frist also said he is considering various options to prevent Democrats from blocking votes on judicial nominees.
The bottom line is, I think, that Specter will get his chairmanship, but not without giving strong assurances that his own liberal views on abortion and other social issues will not undermine President Bush’s appointees.