July 20, 2005
GOP confirmation plan awaits nominee Roberts
By Geoff Earle
The White House and Senate Republican leaders have
assembled a special leadership structure that they
hope will troubleshoot potential problems and ease
confirmation of President Bushs Supreme Court
nominee, Judge John G. Roberts Jr., a conservative on
the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
The handful of Republicans who will fill the key
positions in the confirmation fight met Thursday in
Senate Majority Leader Frists (R-Tenn.) Capitol
office, where they hashed out the roles each would
play in the high-stakes process.
In attendance was former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.),
whom aides and members have begun referring to as the
sherpa the person tasked with guiding the nominee
through numerous meetings with senators, as well as
through Judiciary Committee hearings.
Also present was former Republican National Committee
Chairman Ed Gillespie, who will oversee political and
communications strategy for the nominee and Judiciary
Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Majority Whip
Mitch McConnell (R-Tenn.), who will both play pivotal
roles. Frist, GOP leadership aides and White House
legislative-affairs staff also were in attendance.
Bush was scheduled to announce his pick for the high
court last night, after press time. But the various
political tasks Republicans have assigned are designed
to help any nominee. At the top of their agenda will
be fending off an expected avalanche of attacks while
keeping the heat on any Democrats who mount
Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), who attended last weeks
meeting, said Thompson would fulfill a role played in
the past by lobbyist Tom Korologos, now ambassador to
Belgium. Korologos helped shepherd several members of
the Supreme Court through the confirmation process.
I see Thompson as the current version of Tom
Korologos, said Bennett. He provides institutional
guidance. Thompson, who served one term in the
Senate, was a member of the Judiciary Committee and
now is an actor on NBCs Law & Order, will advise
the nominee on how to address senators and what to
The White House, very wisely, said, Weve got to
have somebody who knows the Senate, Bennett said,
commenting on Thompsons selection.
Bennett raised the hypothetical example of the
president nominating a brilliant female legal scholar.
Even so, he said, You throw her into the meat grinder
without a sherpa? Youre out of your mind.
An administration official described Gillespies role
as more overarching, encompassing communications,
strategy and fast response. Bennett said Gillespies
role was to prevent the conservatives from having the
Bork experience replayed. In an episode that still
upsets conservatives, Robert Bork, a Ronald Reagan
nominee, failed to be confirmed after enduring
withering criticism from Democrats.
Were not going to let that kind of thing happen,
Bennett said. Theres going to be plenty of
Senators confirmed that Frist has tapped McConnell to
spearhead floor confirmation of the nominee.
McConnell, a lawyer and former Judiciary Committee
member, has been through countless partisan battles on
the floor as party whip. He is expected to succeed
Frist as leader after he retires in 2006.
Said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) of McConnell, He
understands the politics internally and on the
outside. I think hes a good choice, and I think hell
do a great job.
McConnell, as our whip, will clearly be at the focus,
quarterbacking on the floor, said Sen. George Allen
(R-Va.), who noted that McConnell has good relations
with the Gang of 14 senators who negotiated a
resolution to the standoff over the filibuster of
McConnell, though, has been circumspect about his
role, even though its existence has already been
Well be announcing that shortly, he said yesterday.
McConnells main job will be to keep close track of
the strength of support for the nominee among members
of the Senate. His office will track any concerns that
GOP members wish to raise.
The newly created roles would appear to diminish the
roles that typically would be played by Frist and by
the White House staff. Aides said the presidents
legislative-affairs staff will also keep close track
of where the votes are while consulting with the
whips office and other leadership staff.
Aides said Frist will have his hands full conducting
the Senates normal business one reason he tapped
McConnell to assist him. But Frist also has chosen to
avoid the limelight on some other issues, allowing the
Gang of 14 Republicans and Democrats to negotiate
their own solution to the judicial filibusters.
Frist likely will remain the first point of contact
with the White House when the nomination is discussed,
and Thompson, his Tennessee colleague, will continue
to keep him informed of developments as they arise.
One Frist aide described the majority leader as the
person ultimately holding the strings in the
leadership structure, comparing him to past Senate
leaders. If you look at Bob Dole and George Mitchell,
hes the master of the game, the aide said.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.),
meanwhile, will have a central role in steering the
nominee through his committee. Specter attended a
meeting at the White House on Monday evening, although
he declined yesterday to disclose whether he knew whom
the president would nominate.
Specter was at the heart of the Bork fight, and
Specter was at the height of the Clarence Thomas
fight, Bennett said. Hes got a few more battle
ribbons on there than anybody.
Lott said yesterday afternoon that he thought Bush
would appoint a woman, adding that it smells like
Bush might appoint Judge Edith Brown Clement of the
5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He said Clement
might be a little bit more moderate than some other
candidates but defended her as a reliable
conservative. Just because she hasnt written
extensively, or spouted off extensively, that might
not mean shes a blank slate, he said.
Lott, who came under pressure for participating in
negotiations with the Gang of 14, also had a message
to outside groups that have already geared up for a
major fight on the nomination. I hope that groups on
both sides would shut up, he said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested
that the White House had decided to announce the
nominee as a way to shift the subject away from
negative attention about White House Deputy Chief of
Staff Karl Rove, who has come under increased
Reid said that how quickly the Senate acts depends on
what type of person the president nominates. He said
that if the president nominates someone who is
noncontroversial, there is not reason Judiciary could
not hold hearings in early September. But he added,
We dont lose anything if it slips a little bit,
since Justice Sandra Day OConnor has said she will
stay on the court until her successor is confirmed.