Bush, senators to discuss high court

Leaders from both parties to attend meeting today on successor to O'Connor

July 12, 2005|By Jill Zuckman and Jan C. Greenburg | Jill Zuckman and Jan C. Greenburg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - President Bush will meet today over breakfast with Republican and Democratic Senate leaders to discuss a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The four lawmakers - Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, and Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee - will arrive at the White House not knowing whether Bush will float specific names for their reaction or just generally hear them out.

Democrats have stressed that the advice-and-consent clause of the Constitution compels the president to discuss the nomination with members of the Senate before he makes a decision.

"I'm ready to start talking names," said Reid, who has suggested that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and several Republican senators would meet with his approval. "I think it's important the names come from him, not from us."

Specter said he does not expect the president to run a list of names by the four senators.

"I expect the president to give a name when he's ready," Specter said, describing the get-together as "very salutary" of the president toward Reid and Leahy.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan did not respond at a briefing yesterday when asked whether any names would be mentioned this morning. Some Republicans expressed skepticism that Democrats could be trusted with such sensitive information.

"Any name coughed up is immediately spat out," said a senior aide to Frist. "As if they can trust them. How can you have a meeting when you're going to run right out and talk to your interest groups?"

The Frist aide said Reid is scheduled to hold a conference call with Democratic activists this afternoon to brief them on the nomination process, what's at stake and how they can get involved, according to a Democratic National Committee news release.

Reid scoffed at the notion that Democrats could not keep a secret.

Asked whether he plans to reveal what the president tells him, Reid replied, "It all depends on what the agreement is between the four of us."

Democrats say history has proved that a president can trust senators of the other party.

"I hope we can get beyond that" distrust, said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who is the assistant Democrat leader. "If the president took one or two members into confidence - I don't expect him to take the entire Democratic caucus into confidence - like Pat Leahy and Harry Reid, they would honor it."

Durbin noted that President Bill Clinton had regular conversations with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who was then the ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, about Supreme Court nominations.

Hatch wrote about those exchanges in his book Square Peg, recounting how he cautioned Clinton against specific nominees and suggested that he instead nominate Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer. Clinton ended up nominating both, and both easily won Senate confirmation.

"That is a level of trust we want to achieve," said Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Committee.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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