WASHINGTON -- On the eve of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Judge Clarence Thomas' qualifications for the Supreme Court, the White House and the nominee's chief Senate sponsor warned yesterday that he will be "very reluctant" to provide "advance views" to the committee on issues such as abortion.
Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., who has guided Judge Thomas through one-to-one visits with 59 senators, spoke to reporters as the committee prepared to start confirmation hearings this morning.
The senator said it would be "not appropriate" for the committee to "try to extract advance promises" from Judge Thomas that could "compromise the integrity" of the Supreme Court when a specific case reached it in the future.
Earlier, President Bush's spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said the White House did not "question judicial nominees on specific issues that may come before the courts, and we expect the Senate will do no different."
At least one member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, has said he will seek to obtain Judge Thomas' views on abortion.
Meanwhile, President Bush said "there's a fight on" over Judge Thomas, but he added: "I am confident we're going to win it."
Judge Thomas, accompanied by a busload of relatives and friends from his hometown near Savannah, Ga., will be the Judiciary Committee's only witness for most if not all of this week's hearings.
Other witnesses, for and against the nominee, will testify next week.
The Judiciary Committee is not expected to vote on the confirmation of Judge Thomas until late this month.
The Supreme Court begins a new term Oct. 7; it is possible that the full Senate will vote before then -- unless the nomination gets into serious trouble during or after the Judiciary Committee's review.
Meanwhile there were once again skirmishes yesterday over a television commercial ostensibly supporting Judge Thomas and questions about the judge's travel record during the time he was chairman of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The television ad, produced by hard-line conservatives, consisted mainly of an attack on the ethics of three liberal Democratic senators: Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Alan Cranston of California, and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Danforth said that Judge Thomas, in a telephone call to his chief sponsor yesterday, continued to "deplore" such "negative" ads and again asked that they "cease and desist immediately."
The ad's producers have refused an earlier demand by President Bush to withdraw the ad.
People for the American Way, one of the groups opposed to Judge Thomas' confirmation, has accused him of improperly taking several trips at government expense while EEOC chairman from 1982 to 1989. Senator Danforth characterized the accusations yesterday as "the last-ditch throwing of mud balls."
* Washington stations WETA, Channel 26, and WHMM, Channel 32, will air complete coverage beginning at 10 a.m.
* Maryland Public Television, Channels 22 and 67, will broadcast the afternoon sessions, starting at 1:30 p.m.
* C-Span will have complete live coverage today but then will have limited live coverage. C-Span will broadcast the start of the hearings each day at 10 a.m. and have complete taped coverage at 8 p.m.
* CNN will have what it describes as extensive live coverage each day, depending on other news.