WASHINGTON – While official Washington remains awash in endless speculation about the possible retirement of Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist (search), maneuvering continues apace on Capitol Hill in expectation of a nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search).
Rehnquist returned to work Friday after a two-night stay in an Arlington, Va., hospital this week, where he was treated for a fever. He gave a definitive statement Thursday night that he has no intention of going anywhere as long as his health holds up.
Democrats and Republicans on Friday continued trying to work out what questions they should and should not ask any of President Bush's Supreme Court nominees (search).
Click in the box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Brian Wilson.
Bush has consulted widely with dozens of lawmakers of both parties in the run-up to making his pick. But Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky chided Democrats in remarks on the Senate floor Friday, saying they are not satisfied.
"They demand that the president give them the names of the people he is thinking about nominating. They want, in effect, to serve as co-presidents by co-nominating a replacement to the Supreme Court," said McConnell, the Senate's second-ranking Republican.
McConnell also said Democratic-aligned outside groups appeared to be in the early stages of an attempt to depict Bush's eventual nominee as an extremist who would deny minorities, women, the disabled and others their rights. "All I'm asking for is a little bit of civility. Civility and compassion for the man or woman who is soon to be named to be the next justice," he said.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he, too, hopes for a dignified confirmation debate — but said that was up to Bush.
"What happens regarding a Supreme Court nominee is dependent on the president. From all the indication I've gotten he doesn't want a big battle here and nor do we," said Reid, who attended a meeting at the White House with Bush earlier in the week and said afterward he wants the White House to let him know in advance the names of court candidates under consideration.
He also stopped short of pledging to make sure Bush's selection is on the court by October. "We're going to try to do everything we can to try to cooperate in that regard. But if it doesn't happen, Sandra Day O'Connor will still be there," he said. Her resignation is effective when her successor is confirmed.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York told two liberal advocacy groups Thursday that senators should be allowed to ask and Supreme Court nominees should answer virtually any question.
"They should talk about their views freely, openly, on things like the first amendment and civil rights and environmental rights and religious liberty and the establishment of the religion and worker's rights and women's rights and more," Schumer told the Center for American Progress and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.
"Another issue, under what circumstance can the Supreme Court overturn well-settled precedent?" Schumer asked.
The Bush administration says senators should look back to 1993 and the confirmation hearings for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (search), who was nominated to the high court by President Clinton. She steadfastly and repeatedly refused to answer such questions.
"It would be wrong for me to say or to preview in this legislative chamber how I would cast my vote on questions the Supreme Court may be called upon to decide," Ginsburg said in her July 20, 1993, testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She held fast to that position throughout her confirmation hearings.
"Once you ask me about this question, this case, then you will ask me about another case that's over and done and another case. So I think that I have to draw the line at the cases I have decided," she said on her third day of testimony.
Sen. Joseph Biden, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee at that time, supported Ginsburg's position.
"You should not answer a question of what your view will be on an issue that clearly is going to come before the court," Biden said on July 22, 1993.
Today, a Republican on the Judiciary Committee agreed with Biden's position.
"It undermines a nominee's ability to remain impartial once he becomes a judge if he or she has already taken positions that might appear before him or her on the bench," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, himself a former Texas Supreme Court justice.
Meanwhile, in the back hallways of the U.S. Senate, the bipartisan group of 14 senators who recently banded together to defuse a legislative showdown over Bush's federal court nominees, met behind closed doors. They emerged a short time later praising the president for reaching out to the Senate prior to the nomination.
"When this thing first started, it was a hard sell," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "It gave the Senate a chance to start over — the agreement was a timeout."
Graham added that he's confident the group will "hang together," stressing in particular the need to "hang to the spirit" of the agreement.
"I'm confident we're going to give it an all-American try ... and we're going to restore tradition," Graham said.
Graham also suggested that the so-called "Gang of 14" might soon need a new name because other senators were thinking about signing on to their agreement. Among those said to be contemplating joining are Sens. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, and Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon.
As the lawmakers ready themselves for the debate, a bipartisan group of women senators, including Murkowski, have written a letter to O'Connor asking her to reconsider her resignation should Rehnquist resign.
"Justice O'Connor, if there is a vacancy, we would be honored if you would consider being the first woman to ever serve as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court," wrote Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Murkowski.
"As United States senators with the constitutional responsibility of 'advice and consent,' we would strongly recommend to Bush that he nominate you as chief justice. You are an extraordinary jurist who has served on the court since 1981. You possess moderation, dignity, and integrity, and have demonstrated the highest standards of legal excellence," they wrote.
The same group had drafted a letter to Bush before O'Connor resigned asking him to consider elevating O'Connor to chief justice if Rehnquist resigned. That letter was never sent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.