White House recruits House Republicans for court battle

The White House has tapped six House Republicans to help in its bid to confirm Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

The House has no constitutional role in the confirmation process. With his selection of Roberts on Tuesday night, President Bush shifted public attention almost entirely to the Senate, which began the initial steps of the confirmation process yesterday.

File photo
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)

But the administration is calling on House members to conduct radio and television interviews as a way to build support for Roberts during what is expected to be a long and bitterly partisan confirmation fight.

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Former Republican National Committee Director Ed Gillespie, who started a successful lobbying firm, will coordinate their efforts. Gillespie was recruited by the White House to guide Roberts through the confirmation process.

Gillespie conducted a conference call with some of House members after Bush’s Tuesday- night press announcement, according to an aide to one of the members involved.

Without an official role in the confirmation process itself, the House members have been recruited to create “an echo chamber” in support of Roberts, an aide to one of the other members added.

Pryce, who chairs the House Republican Conference and formerly served as an administrative-law judge in her native Ohio, said she was unclear about the exact responsibilities of the role but was eager to participate. She said White House liaison Brian Conklin asked her to pitch in.

Nothing has been planned so far, but each of the six members is expected to be booked on radio and television interviews as the confirmation plays out during the August recess.

Outside groups on both sides of the aisle had been gearing up for a tough fight long before Bush announced Roberts as his pick. Progress for America, a conservative special interest group, has raised $18 million for the fight and is expected to unveil a national television spot later today. Liberal groups have been blast-e-mailing talking points on their opposition to Roberts since Bush made the nomination official.

Administration officials briefed House Republicans during their Wednesday-morning conference meeting before moving on to discuss the Patriot Act reauthorization and passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement. A vote is expected on the former this Friday, while a vote on the latter is expected later next week.

Pryce had not heard any specific criticism of Roberts from congressional Democrats in the day following his announcement, leading her to believe that critics would make an issue of the confirmation process itself just as detractors of John Bolton, Bush’s pick to be United Nations ambassador, slowed his confirmation by requesting intelligence information from the White House.

As a judge, Pryce said it is reasonable for any member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to question Roberts’s legal opinions and past rulings because the Supreme Court warrants a thorough confirmation process.

“It’s very appropriate for that kind of questioning, as long as it’s fair,” Pryce said.

Asked about her expectations for the confirmation process as a whole, Pryce said, “We want it to be fair. We want it to be civil.”

Pryce has never met Roberts but marveled about his sphere of influence in Washington.

“It’s amazing the contacts that he has in this town,” she said.

With the House out of the legislative loop on the Roberts nomination, GOP leaders did not miss the opportunity to praise the selection.

During a press briefing yesterday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) commended Bush for fulfilling his campaign pledge to conservative voters.  DeLay said he did not know much about the candidate but was confident after reading news reports earlier in the day that Roberts would be confirmed.
“He looks to be a great candidate,” DeLay said.

“I urge the Senate to move swiftly to hold hearings and give Judge Roberts an up-or-down vote,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said in a statement released by his office Tuesday night. “Quick action will ensure that both branches — the Congress and the Supreme Court — can return to their normal process without long, distracting partisan disruption.”