WASHINGTON – President Bush will meet with a bipartisan, bi-racial group of Mississippi officials Wednesday to push for the confirmation of an embattled nominee for the Federal Appeals court. At the same time, lawmakers are partaking in some extraordinary backroom propositions to get the president's nominee confirmed.
Sources tell Fox News that Bush wants to convey his strong support for U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pickering, who has twice appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for browbeating question-and-answer sessions about his positions on racial and reproductive right issues.
The committee is expected to vote on the nomination Thursday, and Senate Democrats, who make up the majority of the committee, could vote en bloc to reject the nomination.
The outcome could be fixed, however, if lawmakers can score a deal with three-term Mississippi Rep. Charles Pickering, Jr., son of Judge Pickering, who has been approached about giving up his seat in exchange for a positive confirmation vote for his father, sources say.
Sources say intermediaries told Rep. Pickering that if he accepted a congressional redistricting plan in his home state that heavily favored Democrats and would probably lead to his own defeat in this election year, he could save his father's nomination.
Pickering, Jr. has already gone to Federal court to win a dispute over the Democratically-drawn redistricting plan that would have combined Pickering's Congressional District with another currently represented by Democrat Rep. Ronnie Shows.
The district favored by the Democrats but defeated in court would have been 37 percent African-American and would have heavily favored Democrats. Pickering won a district that has slightly different boundaries and an African-American population of 30 percent.
As Judge Pickering's confirmation hearings continued in February, sources say his Rep. Pickering was contacted by lobbyist Printz Bolin, a former aide to Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott. Bolin was acting as a go-between for consultant Richard Buckman, formerly a GOP consultant now working for Shows and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss, sources said.
Sources with direct knowledge of the talks say some Judiciary Committee Democrats opposed to the nomination had discussed the exchange with other members of the Senate who had privately expressed support for the deal. They could not say, however, whether the proposed deal was concocted by lawmakers on Capitol Hill or the intermediaries themselves.
Numerous Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate say they heard about the proposed deal. But Chairman of Mississippi's Democratic Party Ricky Cole said the deal was actually proposed by state Republicans.
Coles said he was personally contacted by a D.C. lobbyist named Richard Mattox who said he was acting as a go-between for Republicans.
The GOP scoffs at the allegation, noting that Mattox used to work for Democratic Rep. Thompson.
Neither Rep. Pickering nor Judge Pickering would comment on the deal. They are deeply involved in trying to revive the nomination, and have not accepted any deals yet. In fact, Friday the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the district map favored by Pickering, rejecting the one proposed by the Mississippi legislature.