Gang of 14 on sidelines

The so-called Gang of 14 senators who brokered a deal on federal judicial nominees in May will meet again today and discuss the Supreme Court vacancy.

But they will neither seek a leadership role on this issue yet nor expand their interest beyond judges, a key member of the group said yesterday.

“We are not trying to emerge as a force or usurp leadership,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said at The Hill’s Policy and Politics breakfast. “Most senators are glad we averted [a filibuster] by coming together.”

McCain commended the White House for reaching out to both sides of the aisle to try to avoid partisan fighting about the upcoming nomination of a successor to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He said a smooth confirmation for the nominee would benefit Congress as well as the White House.

But he hinted that the Gang of 14 remained ready in place if partisanship among pressure groups infected the Senate debate. Constituents “are getting very weary about us fighting each other all the time,” McCain said, adding that the “far right and far left cranked up their propaganda machines” the moment that O’Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court on July 1.

After seven Democrats and seven Republicans made their deal in May to prevent both the “nuclear option” and a filibuster, political observers speculated that the Gang could operate over a wide legislative front.

McCain’s remarks yesterday set aside those of fellow Gang member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who told Chris Matthews in a May 23 interview, “Watch this group of 14 to come out with some deal for Social Security.” McCain yesterday said he did not expect any movement on Social Security during this Congress.

Tom Gavin, a spokesman for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), said that the group will probably discuss the impending Supreme Court nomination today but that there was no set agenda.

Rodell Mollineau, spokesman for Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), said the senators will “talk about the O’Connor vacancy, to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Mollineau and Gavin added that there are no current plans to talk about Social Security.

When asked about Social Security, McCain said that in hindsight Congress should have emphasized the problem facing the institution rather than private accounts, which polarized the issue.