Saturday, November 6, 2004

Moderates Need Not Apply

Sen. Arlen Specter is already finding out how dangerous it is to try to be bipartisan in Bush 2.2.

Angry conservatives flooded Senate phone and fax lines on Friday demanding that Republicans prevent Senator Arlen Specter from presiding over the Judiciary Committee after he remarked that strongly anti-abortion judicial nominees might be rejected in the Senate.

Republican lawmakers and top Senate aides, speaking privately for the most part, said the uproar from the right was becoming an impediment for Mr. Specter, a Pennsylvania lawmaker who has coveted the chairmanship. They said while it was likely he would still get the post, it was no longer a certainty.

“He is not out of the woods,” said one Senate aide who is closely monitoring developments on the Judiciary Committee, echoing a sentiment expressed by Republican senators and other party officials.

Most of those Republicans said they initially believed that Mr. Specter’s subsequent clarification would protect him. Mr. Specter said he did not mean his remarks as a warning to Mr. Bush not to nominate to the Supreme Court a judge who would be inclined to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion.

But the Republican officials said that continuing resistance to his taking the chairmanship of the committee that examines judicial nominees was being fanned by conservative talk radio hosts and groups outraged over his comments.

Lawmakers and aides said Mr. Specter’s comments have touched a nerve because Democratic resistance to Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees was a key element of Republican election campaigns and a likely factor in the defeat of Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, in South Dakota. In addition, the expanded Republican Senate majority is strongly anti-abortion.

The outpouring illustrated how the party’s conservative wing has been emboldened by the White House victory and the strengthening of Republican majorities in Congress, potentially raising new hazards for moderate Republicans who might want to break from the president or House and Senate leadership on major issues.

Note to Senators Chaffee, Collins, Snowe, and anyone else out there who isn’t a foamer; you have been warned.