Senate's 'Gang of 14' fractures over Alito
Updated: 2005-11-03 09:13
The 14 centrists who averted a Senate breakdown
over judicial nominees last spring are showing signs of splintering on President
Bush's latest nominee for the Supreme Court.
That is weakening the hand of Democrats opposed to
conservative judge Samuel Alito and enhancing his prospects for confirmation.
The unity of the seven Democrats and the seven Republicans in the "Gang of
14" was all that halted a major filibuster fight between GOP leader Bill Frist
and Democratic leader Harry Reid earlier this year over Bush's lower court
U.S. Supreme Court
nominee Samuel Alito walks in to meet Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on Capitol
Hill in Washington November 2, 2005. With interest groups across the
spectrum gearing for a battle over conservative Supreme Court nominee
Samuel Alito, the fate of the nominee may well rest in the hands of the
Senate's bipartisan 'Gang of 14.' [Reuters]
The early defection of two of the group's Republicans, Mike DeWine of Ohio
and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, could hurt if Democrats decide to attempt
a filibuster of Alito, the New Jersey jurist Bush nominated Monday to replace
retiring Sandra Day O'Connor.
If Democrats do filibuster, Frist wants to change the Senate rules to
eliminate the delaying tactic ！ something the centrist group blocked in May.
But a filibuster "based on a judicial philosophy difference, or an
ideologically driven difference," Graham said Wednesday at a news conference. "I
don't believe that, with all sincerity, I could let that happen."
DeWine also made clear Tuesday after meeting with the judge that he would
vote to ban a Democratic filibuster. "It's hard for me to envision that anyone
would think about filibustering this nominee," he said.
Graham said he would use the group's next meeting on Thursday to "inform them
of my view."
The centrist Democrats plan to urge their GOP colleagues to withhold
judgment, since Alito's nomination is not even officially at the Senate yet. The
defection of even two members of the group ！ which decided earlier in the year
to support filibusters only in "extraordinary circumstances" ！ would virtually
ensure that Frist, R-Tenn., would win a showdown.
"The truth of the matter is that it's way too early to talk about
extraordinary circumstances," said Sen. Ben Nelson (news, bio, voting record),
D-Neb., a founding member of the group. "I'm not hearing any of my colleagues
talk about it, and I'd rather not hear any of my colleagues on the other side
talk about it as well."
The loss of Graham and DeWine makes the "Gang of 14" less influential.
Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate, and while confirmation requires a
simple majority, it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.
However, Frist needs only a simple majority ！ 51 votes ！ to eliminate the
That means he needs two members of the centrist group to join the rest of the
GOP to meet his goal. With a 50-vote tie in the Senate, Vice President Dick
Cheney would cast the tie-breaking vote for the Republicans and Alito could be
confirmed with majority support.
Bush announced Alito's nomination after the nomination of White House counsel
Harriet Miers collapsed, undermined by conservatives.