• Specter to chair Judiciary Committee
     | January 05,2005

    WASHINGTON — Following a drawn-out political melodrama triggered by his own intemperate remarks, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., was elected chairman Tuesday of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.

    The vote was 10-0 among fellow Republicans on the panel.

    "I'm pleased," Specter said after the hour-long meeting in the offices of departing chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah. "I've been on the committee for 24 years, and it's a real opportunity to deal with some very important issues which affect the American people."

    The vote marked the conclusion of a long ordeal for Specter, 74, who ignited the ire of conservatives with postelection remarks suggesting that Supreme Court nominees would not be confirmed if they sought to roll back the 1973 ruling that granted abortion rights.

    Faced with a relentless campaign of phone calls and faxes from conservative activists, GOP Judiciary Committee members withheld endorsing Specter until he promised in writing that he would support all of President Bush's judicial picks.

    Specter also agreed to back other goals on the GOP agenda, including tort reform.

    Tuesday, the GOP committee members were all smiles, joking that the secret ballot was no longer much of a secret. Specter, too, was relaxed and jovial, though he wore a bandage on the bridge of his nose as a result of the removal of a precancerous skin lesion.

    "You should see the other guy," Specter said.

    With the committee's backing, Specter now must receive the blessing of the 55 members of the Republican Conference, who are to meet Wednesday. They could reject the committee's choice, but that is unlikely.

    Specter is expected to preside Thursday over his first Judiciary hearing, addressing the nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to be U.S. attorney general.

    Earlier in the day, as the 109th Congress convened, Specter was one of 34 senators elected Nov. 2 to be sworn in by Vice President Cheney. Specter, who begins his fifth term, will shortly become Pennsylvania's longest-serving senator.


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