WASHINGTON – Though the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on President Bush's judicial nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday, panel chairman Arlen Specter said he is going to schedule a new hearing for Tuesday on the embattled candidate.
"I think we can accommodate another hearing on Brett Kavanaugh and I am going to schedule it for next Tuesday," said Specter, R-Pa. "What I do not want to have happen is to have a filibuster on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination."
Kavanaugh's nomination to the D.C. Court of Appeals has been languishing for nearly three years — his confirmation hearings were held about a year ago — but the nomination has never been brought forward for a committee vote.
On Tuesday, the nominee met with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who said he wants to learn more about Kavanaugh's role in the National Security Agency's terrorist wiretapping program or in any dealings with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Schumer said he wants more papers from Kavanaugh's work as White House staff secretary and another hearing on the nominee.
"He tried to assure me that he was not what you'd call an ideologue, that he would follow judicial opinion and that's why he wanted to be a judge," Schumer said after the 20-minute meeting. On Thursday, he said torture was not a part of their discussion, but would be brought up at the new hearing.
Specter said he agreed to hold a new hearing if committee senators were not so entrenched in their positions that a hearing would be a waste of time.
"I have said that I would be willing to have another hearing if it would be useful but if we are locked in a partisan 10-8 battle then I was disinclined to do so," Specter said, adding that he had gotten assurances that was not the case.
Much of the debate on Kavanaugh had little to do with the nominee itself, but the president's authority to order wiretaps on people in the United States who were having conversations with individuals abroad who are suspected of terrorist ties.
"I'm not about to give some blanket OK for illegal activity by this administration or any administration," Leahy, D-Vt., said during Thursday's hearing.
That extended remark earned a scolding from Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who said he doesn't mind members expressing their opinions, but stating allegations as fact is below the belt and unworthy of the Senate.
"While it may be perfectly appropriate to characterize the president or the administration's position as 'poppycock,' ... I do think it goes over the line to simply characterize what the president has done as 'illegal activity' and to say 'they didn't intend to follow the law,'" Kyl said of Leahy's description of the president's wiretap orders.
Leahy said he appreciated Kyl's suggestion, but he would "stick with my own phraseology."
In running up flags against the nominee, Democrats also point to a recent action taken by the American Bar Association that seems to hurt Kavanaugh.
"Senator Leahy has been on the Judiciary Committee 32 years. He has never, ever seen the ABA lower someone's rating. He can't say that anymore because Kavanaugh has been lowered," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Leahy said Thursday he could recount two prior examples.
"Here's a person who has been involved in a lot of things dealing with torture, and his experience is nonexistent, basically. Forty-one years old, I'm not sure he's ever been in a courtroom," Reid said.
A White House spokeswoman told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh's rating was lowered from "majority well-qualified, minority qualified" to "majority qualified, minority well-qualified" because a new panel was constituted since his last evaluation. Opponents note that the new panel gave unanimous well-qualified ratings to Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito before their confirmations.
The White House had said it wants the nomination moved off dead-center, but on Thursday accepted the decision.
"While we'd prefer to avoid a second hearing, we have a common goal of confirming good, fair judges who share the President's judicial philosophy," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "We're willing to do what is necessary for his confirmation."
Kavanaugh's nomination has fueled Democratic talk of a filibuster, a procedural move that requires 60 votes to prevent a nomination from getting an up or down confirmation vote. The filibuster talk has led to Republican talk of the nuclear option, which would change the rule on filibusters.
A key member of the moderate Gang of 14 senators who banded together to neutralize such talk in the past said he thinks Kavanaugh should undergo a second round of questioning.
"It's been quite a while since the last hearing and lot of people are new here in the Senate, and there are reasons to take a look at, take a new look at Kavanaugh," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Fla.
But Specter said he had spoken with Gang of 14 members who told him they would not filibuster if another hearing were held. He added that he would call in an official from the ABA to explain Kavanaugh's rating change.
Stacked up behind Kavanaugh is the pending nomination of District Judge Terrence Boyle to serve on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. First nominated by President George H.W. Bush, the current president re-nominated Boyle in 2001. He was voted out of committee on a party-line vote.
But Democrats have questions about Boyle's behavior on the bench, and whether he made investments in GE while hearing a case that directly related to the company.
"The Boyle nomination is being reviewed as we speak. There are some issues and I'm reviewing that matter now," Specter said.
Conservatives in the Senate appear to be backing the Kavanaugh nomination strongly, but support for Boyle is not so strong.
FOX News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.