Close victory anticipated for Thomas Lobbying goes on as Senate prepares to vote tonight

October 15, 1991|By Peter Osterlund and Karen Hosler | Peter Osterlund and Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun TELEVISION COVERAGE The full Senate begins debate on the nomination at 10:30 A vote is scheduled for 6 p.m. CBS: Plans to air Senate debate as warranted. NBC: Will cover procedings from 10 1.p.m.,then continue as events warrant. ABC: Plans not yet set. CNN,C-SPAN,Court TV: All plan live coverage. PBS: Unavailable for comment yesterday because of the Columbus Day holiday;the network covered the Friday-to-Sunday hearings gavel to gavel.Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Senate prepared to close one of the most lurid chapters in its 200-year history, heading toward this evening's scheduled vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas amidst a last-gasp salvo of arm-twisting and innuendo.

Judge Thomas appeared poised for a hard-won confirmation by a slim Senate majority, having emerged bruised but unbowed from a three-day public inquiry into sexual harassment allegations brought against him by Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill.

Although Ms. Hill presented her charges against Judge Thomas with searing explicitness, lawmakers expressed reservations about her credibility and professed a reluctance to condemn a nomination on one person's say-so.

Thus, no senator is to known to have decided to oppose Judge Thomas because of the past week's events, and the correlation of forces for and against the nomination appears to be holding firm.

"Judge Thomas is the strongest man I have ever known," said Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo. "I think the Senate and the American people were able to see what kind of a person he really is."

Nevertheless, the nominee's supporters left nothing to chance, continuing their assault on Ms. Hill's credibility and insinuating that she suffered from unspecified mental disorders.

"I personally believe there is a psychological question," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah. "Now what that means is that people can convince themselves that they're right on matters -- or there may be something more deep."

Judge Thomas' opponents, meanwhile, maintained their no-holds-barred attack on his character, leaking another document to the Associated Press that charged that he sexually harassed a number of black women while he served as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Amidst this tangle of vituperation, the nominee re-enlisted critical Democratic support from Sens. Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, both of whom said that the weekend's hearings had not altered their earlier decisions to support the nominee. Their support suggested that Judge Thomas still enjoyed the backing of most, if not all, of the 13 Democrats who had endorsed him earlier.

"There is not sufficient evidence here," said Mr. DeConcini, the sole Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee to support Judge Thomas in its 7-7 vote on the nomination. "It's inconclusive, the whole process, in this senator's judgment."

"His life, what he's done, his record, is simply not consistent with the charges," said Mr. Johnston. "Moreover, the course of conduct of Professor Hill is not consistent with the charges."

Having declined to exercise her option to appear again yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ms. Hill appeared in a public forum at the University of Oklahoma law school, taking no questions but asserting her veracity in a prepared statement.

"I am not imagining the conduct to which I testified," she said in a prepared statement. "I have been deeply hurt and offended by the nature of the attacks on my character. . . . The personal attacks on me without an iota of evidence are particularly reprehensible."

Throughout the day, Capitol Hill was deluged with phone calls that ran, according to an AT&T official, at more than three times the rate normal for a work day, let alone a federal holiday. An informal survey of staffers and lawmakers indicated that the calls mirrored opinion polls reflecting decisive public support for Judge Thomas' elevation to the high court.

White House lobbyists spent much of the day on the phone, making sure senators and their staffs were cognizant of the tide of public support for their nominee. By all appearances, however, the bad tidings did not come as news to publicity-conscious lawmakers. Said one Democratic staffer after a call from one administration official: "I told him I could read, thank you very much."

Although no one claimed to have a firm vote count, Mr. Johnston projected a vote for Judge Thomas in the "mid-fifties -- about 55," while Mr. Hatch predicted "a comfortable margin." Mr. Danforth, Judge Thomas' one-time mentor and present-day sponsor, rated the contest a "toss-up" but hastened to add that he was partisan and he had spoken with no one about votes.

The news was so upbeat that President Bush, who has maintained a studied distance from GOP efforts to salvage the Thomas nomination, seemed to jump again into the fray.

"I'm very pleased with the way the support all across the country is holding strong for Judge Thomas," Mr. Bush declared after returning from a holiday weekend at Camp David. "It's important note that among Afro-Americans, black Americans, that the support is very, very strong."

Mr. Bush called Mr. DeConicini and Mr. Johnston to thank them for their declarations of support, then laid plans to apply more direct pressure on wavering lawmakers today, as the Senate debates -- supposedly for the last time -- Judge Thomas' nomination and readies itself for a scheduled 6 p.m. vote.

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