Leahy and Specter At Odds Over Holder Confirmation

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Trouble in paradise?

Pat Leahy and Arlen Specter, the ranking Democrat and Republican respectively on the Senate Judiciary committee, have had a relationship over the years that, on the whole, has been a model of bipartisan comity as they’ve passed the gavel back and forth.

But are they falling out over Eric Holder?

In a speech on the Senate floor today, reports The Hill, Specter expressed surprise that Leahy, the committee chair, had scheduled a January 8 kickoff for Holder’s confirmation hearing for the Attorney General job. Barack Obama is scheduled to be sworn in January 20.

Specter cited concerns about Holder’s role in the pardon of Marc Rich in the
waning days of the Clinton administration.

“We need to be sure the attorney general does not bend his views in any way that is partisan or political,” Specter said. “There are many other matters that warrant inquiry.”

Given the amount of material to go through, Specter said, the hearings should not begin until January 26 at the earliest.

The speech followed a letter sent last night by Specter to Leahy.

In response, Leahy just now fired off a letter back to his longtime colleague — “Dear Arlen”, it begins — expressing surprise at Specter’s surprise.

Leahy writes:

As I have said repeatedly from the time reports of his likely designation began appearing in the press in mid-November, I thought we should move promptly. It hardly came as a surprise when the President-elect announced that Eric would be a key part of his national security team at the designation announcement on December 1. My recollection is that your initial reaction on November 18 was that you were at that time already reviewing his record. Of course, Eric is someone you and I both know well and have known and worked with for years.

Leahy also cites historical precedent to argue that the timing of the hearings is not unusual:

After the contentious 2000 presidential election, I also proceeded promptly to hold the hearing on the designation by President-elect Bush of John Ashcroft to be Attorney General. John’s designation was not formally announced until December 22, but I held his hearing 25 days later. I do not think President-elect Obama should be penalized for proceeding promptly with transition and designating his Attorney General selection three weeks before President Bush had.

I am sure you recall during your first year in the Senate how promptly Chairman Thurmond proceeded on the designation of William French Smith to be Attorney General at the beginning of the Reagan administration. The Committee completed its consideration of President Reagan’s lawyer to be the Attorney General of the United States with a vote on January 16, even though he was not designated until December 11. We have known about Eric’s designation officially for 10 days, and unofficially for more than three weeks. The Committee would have to vote on January 6, the first day of the new Congress, to approximate that timeline.

President Carter’s first Attorney General, Griffin Bell, was not designated until December 18, yet his hearing and Committee consideration were completed by January 19. Approximating that timeline would have the Committee voting before the new Congress even comes into session.

Leahy even brings up past favors he has done for Specter:

I have sought to accommodate your interests on many occasions. I scheduled field hearings for you in Pennsylvania on foreclosure and health care mergers issues, and worked hard to ensure fair treatment and confirmation for nominations in which you had a personal interest.

We’ll keep you posted on how this plays out…

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