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Sen. Arlen Specter gained ground Tuesday toward winning the Senate Judiciary Committee chairmanship, which was thrown into doubt after he said judges who oppose abortion rights would face confirmation problems. “I expect him to have the support of the committee,” the panel’s current chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said after a closed-door meeting of its 10 Republican members. Specter, a moderate GOP senator from Pennsylvania who just won election to his fifth term, sought the meeting after social conservatives opposed to abortion mounted a campaign to deny him the job of guiding possible Supreme Court nominees — as well as lower court nominees — to confirmation. “Nobody in the meeting was against Arlen,” Hatch told reporters, with Specter at his side. “Senator Specter handled himself very well and frankly, I’m for him, as I should be.” Despite picking up the crucial support Tuesday, Specter stopped short of declaring victory. “No chickens have hatched, and I don’t count any chickens until they’re hatched,” he said. “But with (Sen.) Hatch beside me, I’m a little less unconfident.” Hatch, who cannot keep the post because of Republican term limits on chairmanships, said he expects the matter to be fully resolved before the 109th Congress convenes in January. It moved in that direction Tuesday when even conservatives on the judiciary panel characterized their meeting with Specter as productive. Outside the Capitol, about 20 abortion opponents held a “pray-in” protesting the prospect of Specter’s becoming the panel’s chairman. Specter, 74, stunned conservatives at a Nov. 3 postelection news conference when he said judicial nominees who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, probably would be blocked by Democrats. “The president is well aware of what happened, when a number of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster,” Specter said then. “And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning.” Specter spent virtually all of Tuesday, the first day of Congress’ return after the election two weeks earlier, offering private reassurances to conservatives in hopes of quelling the controversy. Before the Judiciary Committee meeting, he spent 90 minutes with eight Senate party leaders in Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office. “Arlen has done a tremendous job reaching out to senators over the phone and in person,” said Frist, who only days earlier expressed concerns about Specter’s remark. Other conservatives on the Judiciary panel who had earlier distanced themselves from Specter also characterized their meeting with him as productive. “We got our questions answered, and we had a good discussion,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., whose own federal judgeship nomination in 1986 was thwarted, in part, by Specter. But when asked if he will support Specter for the chairmanship, Sessions said, “I haven’t announced any decision.” No Senate Republican has openly opposed Specter’s ascension to the chairmanship, and several, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Richard Lugar of Indiana, have voiced support for him. “He’s going to be the chairman, I believe,” Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Tuesday. “I think his words after the election were not well-chosen and caused a furor, but I think that he’s made it clear what his record has been, what the facts are and what he wants to do.” Lott predicted the matter will be settled by the end of the week, “and I think he’ll be fine.” Even so, Sen. George Allen of Virginia said Republican senators who won elections this year need to keep their “very, very important promise” to voters that President Bush’s nominees are advanced through the Judiciary Committee and to the Senate floor for full consideration. “It’s important to have that leadership in the Judiciary Committee to effectuate that promise,” said Allen, who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the past election cycle and was one of the leaders who met with Specter in Frist’s office. Conservative and religious leaders who led the pray-in protest said elevating Specter could jeopardize their support of GOP senators, including Frist, who are eyeing a White House run in 2008. “It is a betrayal and a slap in the face to millions of pro-life Americans who helped re-elect this president,” said Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. “Don’t turn to us in four years when you want to run for president … and expect us to contribute millions of dollars.” Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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