This is significant, and the blogosphere isn’t picking up on it:
Acting on a tip from alert reader Hank K., I told you last night: “Fox News is reporting tonight that Sen. Graham and Sen. DeWine signed on to the [filibuster] deal at the explicit request of the White House, which wasn’t sure that Arlen Specter would vote for the nuclear option if push came to shove.”
I’m surprised this hasn’t gotten more attention; perhaps it’s my fault for placing it in a postscript. In any event, I now have the transcript of that story (no link available). It is from last night’s “Special Report with Brit Hume”:
BRIT HUME: More details are now emerging about how that judicial filibuster compromise came about in the Senate and why. FOX News correspondent Major Garrett reports.
MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senior Republican sources tell FOX Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and the Bush White House were worried enough about possibly losing the vote to end judicial filibusters that they dispatched two conservatives, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Ohio’s Mike DeWine, to cut the best possible deal.
The principal source of anxiety, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. Top GOP sources say it was unclear until the last minute how Specter would vote on abolishing Democratic judicial filibusters, the so- called constitutional or nuclear option.
A yes vote would have given the GOP 50 votes. And Vice President Cheney would have then broken the tie. Without Specter, Frist and the Republicans would have been one vote short. DeWine said uncertainty was very real.
SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: No one knows how the vote on the constitutional option would have come out. We might have won. We might have lost. If we lost, it would have been devastating for the president, devastating for the president when he tried to get a nominee up here for the Supreme Court.
GARRETT: Specter has forcefully denied reports earlier this week that he supported the nuclear option. He said again today he would not reveal his position one way or the other.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN OF THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I can do a lot better with divergent interests if I maintain as close to a centrist position as possible. And that means keeping quiet.
GARRETT: Both Graham and DeWine entered the negotiations supporting the nuclear option. They joined five Republicans who sources tell FOX opposed it, Arizona’s John McCain, Virginia’s John Warner, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, and Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
DEWINE: Everybody knew where we were coming from. And you know, we insisted that this is what the deal had to be.
GARRETT: DeWine said he and Graham pressed for confirmation votes on the president’s three most controversial judicial nominees, Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor. They also insisted, he said, the nuclear option remained on the table if Democrats resurrected the filibuster strategy. Conservative activists, nevertheless, have denounced this last-minute compromise, largely based on the assumption Republicans had the votes to prevail.
TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: It appeared, from all indications, the votes were there for the majority leader to employ the constitutional option. These seven helped snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
GARRETT: DeWine said Frist has to keep his distance from the deal but was aware of its contours. He also said the president wouldn’t have labeled the deal as progress the very next morning if he had felt undercut on judges or other legislative priorities.
DEWINE: It cleared the way for a lot of the president’s agenda, other than judges to move forward. So I think, you know, we got a lot, and we really didn’t lose anything.
GARRETT: Except, of course, the nominations of William Myers to the Ninth circuit and Henry Saad to the Sixth Circuit. As with Graham, DeWine confirmed to FOX Democratic filibusters of both will not trigger the nuclear option — Brit?
HUME: OK, Major. Thank you.
Until today, I had not seen this discussed anywhere else in the blogosphere. I have now seen one post about it, at Red State — and that poster was incredulous, not believing that he heard right. But he did. The transcript proves it.
I’ll repeat what I said last night:
If this is true, it is yet another miscalculation by the Bush Administration. The GOP should have forced Specter to vote. Had he voted the wrong way, that would have been his last day as Judiciary Committee Chairman. He wouldn’t dare.
I still feel that way today.
UPDATE: Commenters here and at Confirm Them say they believe the report is inaccurate. The commenter below says Frist’s office denies it — but if you look closely at the language the commenter says Frist’s office used, it sounds like a non-denial denial. (I’m not sure I’d believe a solid denial.) The Confirm Them commenters (so far) offer nothing more than Rush Limbaugh’s word that the story is false.
Caution is warranted any time a report is based on anonymous sources, but I haven’t seen ironclad proof either way. (I should have put a question mark at the end of the post title, and I’m doing so now.) But the story certainly seems worth following up on.
UPDATE x2: Mickey Kaus says that this story is a “mighty-convenient new explanation.” And commenter Loren chimes in with the view that the story is probably “damage control” after the Bolton disaster. I find this explanation heartening, as it means that Graham and DeWine may be starting to realize their mistake. That’s good news for those of us who want judges who judge rather than legislate.
UPDATE x3: Via an update to the Confirm Them post linked above, we now have this link to Rush Limbaugh’s alleged debunking of the Fox News story. Sure enough, there is not much there. It is little more than Rush saying he made a few phone calls to unspecified sources. Then again, that’s what Major Garrett appears to have done as well. So we have a battle of competing anonymous sources. Great.
In any event, Limbaugh offers arguments that the Fox News story seems suspicious. Are Mickey Kaus and Rush Limbaugh on the same side of this issue??