Senate Democrats pledge to fight nomination of Allen

Bush to decide whether to resubmit Virginian for 4th Circuit judgeship

December 11, 2003|By David L. Greene and Julie Hirschfeld Davis | David L. Greene and Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Democratic leadership in the Senate vowed yesterday to fight President Bush's nomination of Claude A. Allen, a conservative Virginian whose selection for a federal appeals court seat is vehemently opposed by Maryland's two Democratic senators.

The move heightens the resistance to the Allen nomination and could lead to another bruising battle in Congress over Bush's drive to reshape the federal judiciary.

To underscore his opposition to Allen, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota negotiated with Republicans to ensure that when the Senate recessed Monday for the holiday season, Allen's nomination was sent back to Bush. This will force the president, if he chooses, to renominate Allen.

Last night, the White House left open the possibility that Bush might drop the nomination and consider another person who might have a better chance for confirmation. Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, called Allen "an outstanding nominee" and said it is "regretful the Senate did not act on his nomination."

But the issue of whether to renominate Allen when Congress returns in January, Buchan said, "is a decision for the president."

A spokeswoman for Daschle said there is "strong opposition" from him and other Democratic leaders to Bush's choice of Allen, who would fill a seat on the Richmond, Va.-based Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas.

"We hope the White House won't renominate him," the spokeswoman, Ranit Schmelzer, said. "If they do, there will be a fight next year."

Maryland's two senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, have denounced the Allen nomination. They argue that the seat he would fill - formerly held by Francis D. Murnaghan Jr. of Baltimore, a liberal who died in 2000 - rightfully belongs to a Marylander.

The nomination has been bottled up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Democrats succeeded in delaying a vote last month.

Allen, an African-American who is the Bush administration's deputy secretary of health and human services, is a fierce opponent of abortion rights who once served as an aide to former Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, one of the Republican Party's most combative conservatives.

Until yesterday, other Democrats had expressed some opposition to Allen, saying they viewed him as too conservative and were considering fighting his nomination as hard as they fought Bush's choice of Miguel A. Estrada, a conservative lawyer and immigrant, for the appeals court in Washington. The White House ultimately withdrew Estrada's nomination at his request.

The warning from Daschle's office yesterday, and his push to send the nomination back to Bush, marked the first time that the party leadership has indicated it would stand by Mikulski and Sarbanes. For a pending nomination to carry into a new session after a recess, all 100 senators must consent.

"This is an important step in making sure this seat goes to a qualified Marylander," Mikulski said in a statement last night.

Allen could not be reached for comment. In the past, he has declined interview requests while his nomination is pending.

Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, an interest group allied with the White House, said that if the parties squabble over Allen's nomination next year, he would run television ads highlighting the fact that Democrats were blocking a judicial nominee who is a minority. His group ran similar ads when Democrats blocked Estrada.

With Republicans fuming over Democratic filibusters of several Bush nominees, Rushton predicted an all-out fight over Allen. "I don't think Republicans are in much of a mood to back down and give Democrats deference," he said.

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