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Arlen Specter on Thursday won the backing of Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to be their new chairman, surviving complaints from abortion opponents after submitting an extraordinary statement underscoring his support for Bush judicial nominees. “I have assured the president that I would give his nominees quick committee hearings and early committee votes,” Specter said at a news conference during which outgoing chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the panel’s Republicans were unanimous in backing the Pennsylvania moderate. The nine Judiciary Republicans agreed they would stand behind Specter in January’s vote for chairman despite his statement after this month’s elections that anti-abortion judges would have a difficult time gaining Senate confirmation, given Democratic opposition. That comment infuriated abortion opponents, and Senate conservatives — during meetings arranged by GOP leadership — subjected Specter to an exceptional grilling on his views and intentions. Anti-abortion activists said they were disappointed that Senate Republicans had decided not to block Specter. “However, he will assume his new position on a very short leash,” said James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian lobbying group Focus on the Family. Specter said Thursday, “I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy” of the federal bench. He read from a statement he had written that was cleared by committee members as well as the GOP leadership. The leaders are determined to confirm Bush’s second-term judicial nominees, possibly including a Supreme Court appointee. In the statement, Specter repeated the guarantees he had made over the previous two weeks — that he did not have a litmus test on abortion rights for judges and that he would give Bush’s nominees quick hearings and push for their confirmation. Specter also promised that he would fight possible Democratic filibusters and would not block legislation or a constitutional amendment in committee, “even one which I personally opposed.” With unhappy abortion opponents flooding the Capitol with complaints, GOP senators had said a public reckoning with Specter was required to smooth things over — and to give Republicans some political cover. Even so, Specter said he felt no pressure to change any position. “There’s nothing that I have said here today that I haven’t repeated often in prior statements in the course of the past two weeks and many years before,” he said. An official vote won’t come until January, and can still be appealed to the full 55-member GOP caucus. The agreement by committee members to support Specter “represents the views of people at this time, on this day,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Specter promised to do his best to stop Democrats from blocking more of Bush’s nominees. In the past four years, Democrats have been successful in halting 10 judicial nominees through threats of a filibuster, while allowing more than 200 to be confirmed. “I have already registered my opposition to the filibuster and will use my best efforts to stop any future filibusters,” Specter said. “It is my hope and expectation that we can avoid” future gridlock with next year’s 55-44-1 Republican Senate majority. Abortion opponents lobbied hard to keep Specter out, holding a “pray-in” at the Capitol on Tuesday and burying GOP senators’ offices with e-mails, faxes and telephone calls. “The fact is that he has supported every single nominee,” said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. “And to me, you look at a person’s record. You look at what they have done. And you judge them based on their word, and you judge them by what they have done.” Added Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.: “We’ve been in the trenches, and Arlen Specter has stood side by side and toe to toe with all of us in opposition to the antics coming from the other side. He has been 100 percent supportive of the president’s judicial nominees. You cannot ask for any more of a chairman than to be that way.” Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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