Patterico's Pontifications


White House and Frist Dispatched DeWine and Graham to Cut a Deal?

Filed under: Judiciary — Patterico @ 12:41 pm

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.

(Emphasis mine.)

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??

25 Responses to “White House and Frist Dispatched DeWine and Graham to Cut a Deal?”

  1. If Frist wouldn’t strip Specter of his chairmanship under those circumstances, he doesn’t belong in his position.

    Gerald A (bdfba2)

  2. iT sure is, if only it were true. It’s not … called Frist’s office and they said flatly no. The Senator had no part in the final deal.

    If you think back Reid was on TV wasting money raging on and on about his UnConstitutional action — then Byrd through a sheet over his head with no eye holes.

    [“The Senator had no part in the final deal.” Hmmmmmmmmm. That sounds like a non-denial denial. We already *know* he had no part in the final deal. The question is whether he helped dispatched Graham and DeWine.

    Even if Frist’s office flatly denies this, I’m not sure I’d take their word for it.

    The Fox News story is not *necessarily* accurate, but it may be, and Frist’s non-denial denial doesn’t mean it isn’t. — Patterico]

    bill (26027c)

  3. I believe that removal of a committe chair may be filibusterable.

    Andrew (d85f42)

  4. “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.”

    Is anybody else struck by how odd it is that an elected public official won’t state his position? Isn’t he supposed to be acting on behalf of others? He’s acting like the issue is his own fiefdom, rather than an interest of the voters who chose him.

    I’d fire him.

    Bostonian (a37519)

  5. […]″ rel=”bookmark” title=”Permanent Link: “> Patterico has a transcript from a May 26 Fox News re […]

    Confirm Them » (e203ab)

  6. The Republican leadership also thought Jeffords wouldn’t dare switch parties and that didn’t work out so well for them. Perhaps Specter wouldn’t dare vote “wrong” but apparently the Republican leadership didn’t dare put him to the test. Btw while ordinarily the majority party chooses chairmen, isn’t it actually the prerogative of the entire Senate? Which Republican senator would vote against the nuclear option and then vote for removing Specter as chair because Specter voted against the nuclear option? I don’t think things are as simple as you would prefer.

    James B. Shearer (fc887e)

  7. […] ts?

    posted by Jeffrey D. King on May 27th, 2005 at 1:49 pm

    Patterico posts a transcript of Fox News s […]

    ThreeBadFingers » Blog Archive » Rove’s Fingerprints? (a354a0)

  8. Patterico, what the transcript failed to reveal was that all the shots of Arlen Spector showed him without his rug. He looked older than Robert Byrd. In fact, he looked amazingly like Professor Farnsworth from the animated show Futurama:

    (Second row, first column)

    That alone is scary enough that he should be deprived of his chairmanship!


    Dafydd (df2f54)

  9. The spin has started. As in all spin there is a grain of truth. (1) Frist knew about the group of 12 or 14 and of course the WH by association. (2) The vote would have been close. (3) Specter was a soft yes vote. (4) Both Dewine and Graham were also soft yes votes.

    Therefore, I think that Graham is doing McCain a favor and trying to ride his coattails to bigger and better things in 2008. DeWine is covering for Specter and also trying to make a name for himself on the national stage. DeWine’s son is running for Congress in a special election. Both have selfish reasons for the compromise and unselfish reasons.

    Tuesday morning and this thing blows up in their faces. Instead of a victory lap that he thought he would take, Graham is obviously shaken on the Senate floor. So now we need to cover for DeWine and Graham. Enter Specter.

    Specter all last week sounded very strongly against the filibuster. This week he’s denying that he was for the constitutional option and is sounding centrist and undecided. All after Tuesday morning. He’s trying to save Dewine’s and Graham’s careers and DeWine is trying to save his son’s career. The filibuster deal died Tuesday, we just didn’t know it until the Bolton vote.

    Now everyone(Republican, Democrat, MSM) is in damage control. Washington is a surreal place.

    Loren (f2f4d9)

  10. “That alone is scary enough that he should be deprived of his chairmanship!”

    You know the guy is sick right? Isn’t that a symptom of his cancer/treatment?

    actus (3be069)

  11. specter, being a sick man, is now more free than ever to thumb his nose at the leader. knowing you are close to dying can concentrate a man’s mind and make him fearless. he probably wants to vote his conscience now, and as a long-time senator feels more affinity with that institution than with the rightwing Frist/Santorum types surrounding him.
    just my guess on this. nobody knows.

    inedal (8dcb19)

  12. Actus, yes, it was snarky and cold-hearted… but he is so far down my list of ethically acceptable people at this point that I just didn’t care. He has a wig; I’ve seen him in it fairly recently (it looks like his regular hair did). Maybe he decided it was uncomfortable.

    But he has become such a shiv in the side of both his caucus and the country as a whole, that, like
    Jo Dee Messina, my give-a-damn’s busted.


    Dafydd (df2f54)

  13. I’m a partisan Democrat who thinks you got this one right.

    The WH and Frist managed to bluff Reid into a deal without leaving their fingerprints on it. Frist was bargaining out of weakness, and yet managed to cut a very good deal for the Republicans due to Reid misplaying his cards.

    If Reid had called their bluff, DeWine and Graham would have been forced to abandon Janice Rogers Brown, or to walk away from the table. And a deal that abandoned Brown would have set a SCOTUS nomination precedent much more advantageous for the Dems.

    All you Republicans who hate Specter ought to thank him for not making his intentions clear ahead of the vote. If he had revealed ahead of time that he was voting against the leadership, Reid would’ve realized that he held the high cards, and all of Frist’s leverage would’ve disappeared.

    In other words, you won a fight you didn’t have the votes for, and everyone is so mesmerized by the kabuki dance that no one can see the reality.

    Finally, something pundits on both sides seem to miss is that it wasn’t in Frist’s interests to actually go nuclear. The fallout to a successful nuclear vote would have left Frist radioactive. The goal all along was to make Reid blink, and that was accomplished.

    Petey (84e817)

  14. Fearless and Arlen Specter are not two things I would have put in the same sentence.

    antimedia (5242ef)

  15. All you Republicans who hate Specter ought to thank him for not making his intentions clear ahead of the vote.

    Or, we could not thank him for voting against us — if that’s what he was going to do, the bastard.

    Patterico (756436)

  16. “Or, we could not thank him for voting against us”

    You guys hate Specter the way my guys hate Lieberman. So tell me something new.

    The thing a lot of folks seem to miss is that there is a tremendous self-interest for Senate moderates to avoid weakening the filibuster. Senators between the 40 yard lines hold a huge amount of power, while House moderates are marginalized. And that’s almost entirely because of the filibuster.

    Politicians rarely like to give up power voluntarily. For this reason, I always thought the nuclear option was unlikely. Specter probably wouldn’t have been with you on Tuesday, but he did what was necessary to get Reid to blink. Count your blessings.

    And FWIW, this issue has been more misperceived on both sides of the partisan blogosphere than any other issue I can recall. On the left, everyone is desperate to perpetuate the myth that Reid won, and on the right, Frist and the WH are unable to claim victory.

    Petey (84e817)

  17. Hmmm.

    This is nothing but damage control for Graham and DeWine. They now realise that they’ve completely pissed off the base and are trying to spread enough bullshit that they try to escape. Similar to a squid squirting ink when trying to escape.

    And similar to a squid these Republican senators have no backbone.

    ed (79238a)

  18. Well, perhaps DeWine and Graham were working for and with Frist and the White House. My problem is with their explanations expressed when the deal was cut. They seemed too self serving then, and even more so now. So, I agree with ed. And as for Specter, he’s the same now as before the cancer. Which is why he should never have been made a chairman.

    Mr. Right (95a177)

  19. Calif. Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown is a judge who enforces her own policy preferences, rather than just judging the law. In Edelstein v San Francisco, 56 P 3d 1029 (2002), she wrote the opinion (4-3) against having write-in space on San Francisco run-off mayoral elections. However, the state election code says write-ins are permitted “in any election”. Janice Rogers Brown said that doesn’t mean run-off elections. Also, her decision explicitly ruled a 1986 precedent of the same California Supreme Court, Canaan v Abdelnour. So she distorted the plain meaning of “any”, and overruled a precedent to boot.

    Richard Winger (dfe1ca)

  20. If the story is true, if the Whitehouse was afraid that Specter wouldn’t go along, don’t forget that we can thank George Bush for the fact that Specter is there at all. Specter barely won his primary challenge even with George Bush pulling out all stops to support him.

    Doc Rampage (47be8d)

  21. Politics, politics.

    Confirm Them details what could soon be a scandal: FoxNews has reported that Bill Frist (and the Bush administration) sent Lindsey Graham and Mike DeWine to broker the deal because Arlen Specter would have voted against the Byrd/constitutional/nuclear …

    RIGHT (faa064)

  22. There’s lots of reasons that Bush/Frist would want to avoid a defeat. Think about how Specter had been saved by Bush. How bad would THAT have looked.

    JS (bbf822)

  23. I have been saying for several weeks now that that the Republicans didn’t have the votes.

    If they had the votes it would have been a done deal a long time ago.

    In any case my favorite, libertarian leaning nominee Janice Brown who is no fan of drug prohibition, will be confirmed; so from my perspective a good outcome.

    I look forward to the day when regular Republicans go back to their roots and once again champion small government.

    In the mean time cutting taxes and supporting the war is the best I can hope for from this lot.

    M. Simon (8ecc22)

  24. A lot of what power is about is perception.

    By picking a fight whose outcome was doubtful on an important issue the Republican unnecesarily weaked themselves and emboldened the opposition.

    Stupid tactics.

    If the Dems now go ahead with the filibuster of judicial nominees they know they will get a free ride.

    In addition the “Not One Thin Dime” campaign in the wake of this debacle will weaken the Republicans financially and morally (as in morale).

    This is such stupid politics it is hard to believe.

    Oh, yeah. I forgot. It is the stupid party in charge.

    Well the “big tent” is getting smaller.

    And if the Rs keep going in the direction they are headed they may wind up as powerful as the California Republican Party before the advent of Arnie.

    Way to go guys.

    M. Simon (8ecc22)

  25. Whether Specter was a Comittee Chairman or not would have made no difference.

    So you take away his Chairmanship and you definitely lose his vote on this issue and perhaps others.

    At least as it stands now he owes some loyalty to the party. Strip him of the Chairmanship and he has no reason at all to support the Party.

    This is politics. Some support is better than no support.

    M. Simon (8ecc22)

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