WASHINGTON – After two days of appealing to fellow GOP senators, embattled Arlen Specter (search) of Pennsylvania said he would make a public statement to assure Republicans at large he would not block anti-abortion judicial nominees from President Bush.
"I'm working on it," Specter said of the statement after receiving more Senate support despite calls from anti-abortion conservatives that he be skipped over as the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee (search).
Specter, a moderate on abortion rights, has been trying to repair the damage caused by his postelection comment that Democrats would probably block judicial nominees who would try to overturn Roe v. Wade (search), the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion.
"And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning," he said then.
Since then, he has been trying to reassure Republicans that he would not stand in the way of Bush's nominees if he takes over the Judiciary Committee next year when current chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah steps down because of term limits.
He's been on radio and television, and telling senators one by one and in groups that he doesn't have a litmus test on abortion for judges. In addition, he's been stressing that Democrats plan to filibuster against conservative judges regardless of what he does.
"People are looking to him to provide some assurance, so he'll make a statement," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who is in line, in terms of seniority, to become the committee's chairman if Specter is passed over.
Senators have said that there would have to be some kind of public reckoning for Specter to smooth over relations with abortion opponents, and to give them some political cover from the e-mails, faxes and phone calls they have been receiving.
But nothing Specter says will satisfy some conservatives, who say he has a track record of opposing their issues.
"When Jon Kyl, Jeff Sessions or John Cornyn would make a great chairman, why in the world would Republicans take the great risk of trusting Specter?" said Jan LaRue, lawyer for the conservative Concerned Women for America.
Nevertheless, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, staunch anti-abortion advocate and fellow Pennsylvanian Rick Santorum, offered Specter support.
"I think everyone knows that I have been a supporter of Sen. Specter throughout this process, in his re-election," Santorum said. "I expect him to keep his commitments, to move judges out of committee, and to be an advocate of the president in getting those judges passed."
Specter spent most of Tuesday talking to noncommittal Senate leadership and to GOP Judiciary Committee members, who will take an official vote on his chairmanship in January.
That vote, whichever way it goes, can be appealed to the full GOP caucus, which heard from Specter on Wednesday.
No one would say what Specter told senators, and that includes Specter. "Under no circumstance would I begin to tell you what I said," he said afterward.
But no one spoke out for or against Specter during the meeting. At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Specter's comments "were received well."
Even before the meeting, Specter was getting public statements of support from colleagues like Hatch, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
"He was just restating the facts about potential challenges with a Supreme Court nominee before the United States Senate," Snowe said.
His subsequent statements since Election Day, said Warner, have been "clear as a bell -- no ifs, ands or buts. I think he's made clear the circumstances under which he made that statement, and he should be given the opportunity to serve."