Controversial remarks by Sen. Arlen Specter, cautioning President Bush against nominating Supreme Court justices who would overturn the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision, have sparked a furious outcry from Bush’s large conservative and Evangelical support base, and spawned a movement to ensure the Pennsylvania Republican does not ascend to chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee as expected.
Sen. Arlen Specter greets President Bush in Harrisburg, Pa., during campaign.
Overnight, a website named NotSpecter.com emerged to help lead the charge.
Organized as a project of RedState.org, the website “is dedicated to the proposition that the Republican party, the conservative movement and the country would all be better served without Arlen Specter as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. For decades, Specter has shown that his personal interests and the president’s agenda are at odds.”
The site has a petition that will be forwarded to the judiciary panel and offers other ways to contact influential officials in Washington.
Recently re-elected to a fifth term with the crucial aid of President Bush, Specter is in line to become chairman in January when Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah steps down due to term-limit rules.
According to an Associated Press interview Wednesday, Specter said, “When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe vs. Wade, I think that is unlikely. The president is well aware of what happened, when a number of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster. … And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning.”
After an immediate outburst of national outrage, Specter issued a statement Thursday insisting he did not send a warning to Bush.
“I did not warn the president about anything and was very respectful of his constitutional authority on the appointment of federal judges,” Specter said. “I have never and would never apply any litmus test on the abortion issue.”
Nevertheless, outraged Iowa state Rep. Dan Boddicker has launched a drive to make Sen. Charles Grassley chairman of the panel instead. But the Iowa Republican senator, an abortion opponent, is expected to resume his chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee.
According to rules established by the majority party, the committee chairman will be chosen by a secret-ballot vote of the Republican members of the panel. The nod traditionally goes to the senior member, but the rules specify any member can be selected. The entire conference must then approve the committee’s pick by another secret ballot, although rejection is rare.
Specter, who says he joined the GOP in his first election race in 1965 because it offered more support than the Democrats, has a lifetime rating of 43 out of 100 from the American Conservative Union. By comparison, his Pennsylvania Republican colleague Sen. Rick Santorum has a rating of 87.
But Santorum has come to Specter’s defense, while seeking assurance he will abide by the president’s wishes.
After Specter’s follow-up statement Thursday, Santorum said Specter had “clarified that he does not support a litmus test for nominees with regard to their stance on abortion” and added he looked forward “to working with Sen. Specter to guarantee that every judicial nominee put forth by President Bush has an up-or-down vote” by the full Senate.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told the AP he hoped Specter would promise to back the president’s nominees.
“I’m intending to sit down and discuss with him how things are going to work,” he said. “We want to know what he’s going to do and how things are going to work.”
Syndicated radio talk host Laura Ingraham, urging “Stop Specter Now,” is waging a vigorous campaign to get listeners to put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has shown interest in becoming the Republican presidential nominee in 2008.
Ingraham is among many asking citizens to call Frist’s office at (202) 224-3344 and contact members of the judiciary committee.
The group pulled out quotes from Specter’s letter:
- “I want to strip the strident anti-choice language” from the GOP party plank.
- “I will not give up our Party to radical extremists without a fight.”
- “Will you stand up to the far-right fringe that demands that legal abortion be banned?”
- “I don’t think the Republican Party should be blackmailed by any special interest group.”
James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, called Specter’s comments this week “the worst kind of political bullying.”
The Family Research Council noted Spector led the fight against President Reagan’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Robert Bork.
“He has a history of pandering to the aggressive abortion lobby and a Specter chairmanship would be disastrous,” the FRC said in a statement.
As chairman, the FRC pointed out, “he would control the confirmation process of federal judges, including nominees to the Supreme Court. He would also determine the makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee staff, which would go a long way toward determining the committee’s political and judicial philosophy.”
Concerned Women for America sent a letter yesterday to Frist, urging the majority leader to “use your considerable influence to prevent Sen. Specter from being placed in a position of trust to which he is clearly not suited.”
CWA referred to the conventional wisdom that Specter would not have narrowly defeated popular conservative challenger Rep. Pat Toomey in the Republican primary without the support of President Bush.
“Some pay-back,” CWA said. “Specter earned no mandate to tell the president that he did not earn ‘a mandate’ in his election victory.”
CWA added, “Given the president’s resounding victory by both popular and the Electoral College vote, and the Republicans’ increased margin in the Senate to 55 seats, filibusters should be out of the question to consider and easy to defeat. This makes it all the more traitorous for Specter to give aid and comfort to those who’ve opposed the president’s judicial nominees.”
A coalition of pro-life groups plans a “pray-in” outside the Dirksen Senate Office building Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. to help ensure Specter does not get the panel chairmanship.
The coalition, which says it hopes also to pray inside Frist’s office, includes Troy Newman of Operation Rescue, Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, Rev. Rob Schenck of Faith and Action, and Chris Slattery, a pro-life, pro-family activist from New York City.
“We urge people to contact Senator Frist and let him know that the president needs a loyal man at the helm of the Judiciary Committee, and that man is not Senator Spector, ” said Mahoney.
“Specter’s attempt to challenge the right of the president to make judicial appointments is outrageous,” said Newman. “He cannot be allowed to single-handedly hold nominees hostage with whom he has a personal ax to grind.”