WASHINGTON – Both political parties are to blame for the impasse on confirming President Bush's judicial nominees, says Arlen Specter (search), Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"No one wants to back down and no one wants to lose face," Specter said Thursday in his first interview with Washington reporters since disclosing he has Hodgkin's disease (search).
Specter will initiate this year's confirmation battles between Bush and the Democrats by holding hearings on the nominations of former Interior Department Solicitor William Myers (search) on Tuesday, a nominee who was blocked last year, and U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle on Thursday, a nominee who has been waiting for his confirmation hearing since the beginning of Bush's presidency.
While he expects those nominees to undergo severe questioning from Democrats, Specter is certain the Republicans' 10-8 advantage on the Judiciary Committee can win approval there, sending the nominations to the full Senate.
"When it comes to the floor, as you all know, it is another matter," he said.
Specter said he has counted 58 votes for Myers, which mean he's only two away from a filibuster-proof margin. Democrats have complained that appeals courts need balance, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is considered the most liberal appeals court, Specter said.
"I think that William Myers would bring some balance to the 9th Circuit," he said.
Boyle has been nominated to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
Republicans and Democrats have been fighting over judicial nominees for years. Democrats blocked Myers and nine other appeals court nominees through filibuster threats during the first Bush term, while allowing the Senate to confirm 204 of the president's other nominees.
With a Senate comprised of 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and a Democrat-leaning independent, Democrats still have the 40 votes necessary to uphold a filibuster -- and they have threatened to do so with nominees they don't like.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Bush's "my way-or-the-highway" posture on judicial nominations is the real obstruction.
"There is zero consultation," Schumer said. "That is not what the founders intended."
Specter, however, said Democrats started the impasse by blocking President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush's nominees, then Republicans retaliated by blocking President Clinton's, and now Democrats are taking their turn.
Specter would not commit to vote for a Republican plan to change Senate rules to ensure judicial nominees can't be blocked, called the "nuclear" option because Democrats say it would blow up relations in the Senate.
"I have not made a judgment on it," he said. "As I've said before, I'd prefer not to come to that bridge. I'm certainly not going to jump off the bridge until I come to it. I'm going to exercise every last ounce of my energy to solve this problem without the nuclear option."
Specter said he could see the use of a filibuster "in an extraordinary case, extraordinary matter. But not when it is an everyday practice. I think it is unprecedented, but there have been a lot of unprecedented actions taken on both sides here."
Specter also said his committee has started work on researching the process of confirming a Supreme Court nominee, just in case a position comes open.
If a Supreme Court justice were to step down and a new nominee were not quickly confirmed, the court would be at risk of coming to meaningless 4-4 ties on crucial cases, Specter said. "You wouldn't have decisions for the cutting edge of all the questions," he said.
Bush can solve the problem by consulting with both sides before making a nomination, he said. "You need to bring the country together on this nomination if you possibly can," Specter said.
But that is Bush's call, Specter said. "Taking advice is not too hard as long as you get to make the final decision," Specter said. "And the Constitution doesn't say the president should do more than take advice."
The interview in the U.S. Capitol came one week after Specter announced that he has Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph system. He brushed aside questions that his illness and the chemotherapy needed to fight it could affect his work as Judiciary chairman.
His doctor, John Glick, says "when I take these treatments on a Friday afternoon and rest over the weekend, that I can come back to work on Monday," Specter said.
"I have a lot of stamina, and Dr. Glick hopes that being in shape from my daily squash regimen is going to help me. But I expect to be able to do the job I always have," he said.