By Alexander Bolton - 06/22/06 12:00 AM EDT
Despite a likely fatal lack of support among the Republicans in the Gang of 14, conservative activists this week pushed hard to move the forlorn nomination of Judge Terrence Boyle to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Heavy lobbying efforts by the right have generated more support for Boyle among several Republican senators, such as Assistant Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.).
But the Gang of 14 — seven centrist Democrats and seven centrist Republicans — probably holds the swing votes that will determine whether a filibuster is allowed to block a vote on Boyle.
Boyle’s lack of support among Republican Gang members has been kept quiet by behind-the-scenes pressure from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).
The seven Democrats registered their opposition to Boyle last month by sending a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) requesting a second hearing on the nominee, although he had already been approved by a party-line vote. Democrats say a second hearing is needed because of recent reports that Boyle ruled in cases in which he had a financial interest.
Boyle’s conservative supporters say the request for a hearing is merely a stalling tactic. They note that Boyle’s nomination, first made by President Bush in May 2001, has languished in the Senate longer than any other nominee.
The lack of Republican signatures on the Democrats’ letter suggested a partisan divide within the Gang of 14, but sources among the 14 say some Republicans were willing to sign the letter but balked only because DeWine strongly opposed it. He was apparently worried that it would damage him politically to be part of a group of Republicans who endorsed further delay of Boyle’s nomination.
The senator refused to say what he had said to his fellow Gang members. “I’m not going to comment on what went on in that meeting,” he said.
He is the only one of the 14 facing a difficult reelection race this year. He has taken heat from the Ohio right, particularly from activist Phil Burress, for taking centrist positions, including his membership in the Gang.
Last year the gang thwarted a Senate Republican leadership plan to strip Democrats of the power to filibuster judicial nominees. At one point Ohio conservatives tried to find a GOP primary challenger to DeWine.
DeWine has repaired his relationship with Ohio’s conservative base, said one activist leader in Washington, and his progress could be reversed if the Gang of 14 effectively blocked Boyle.
GOP Gang members say Boyle’s nomination faces hurdles.
“There certainly are concerns about him,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). “There’s certainly a sense that there are greater problems with his nomination. Suffice it to say there are problems.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she has “serious concerns” about the conflict-of-interest charges against Boyle.
Other Republican Gang members declined to comment on the nominee.
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), a defender of Boyle in public, said this week that he would support a second panel hearing for Boyle: “These allegations might not hold water; it could help him.”
Though Graham has publicly supported Boyle, Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of conservative groups defending Boyle, said he would hold Graham responsible for the death of Boyle’s nomination.
“If Boyle goes down, the person to blame will be Lindsey Graham,” said Miranda, who alleged that Graham represents the interests of employment lawyers who oppose Boyle.
Specter said last month that he does not support a second hearing for Boyle.
A senior GOP aide said the Senate could vote on Boyle during July or after the August recess. The Senate Republican leadership is testing Boyle’s support but does not want a floor vote it cannot win, the aide said.
A Democratic victory would embarrass Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) as he courts conservatives in preparation for a run for president.
Gang Republicans have indicated they will not fight for Boyle if he is he is filibustered by Democrats, and that’s unlikely to change unless the White House gets fully behind Boyle. So far that hasn’t happened.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told the Associated Press last month, “There were a handful of cases over the years in which it appears that recusal was warranted. But Judge Boyle has never intentionally participated in any matter in which he should have recused himself, nor has there been any suggestion that he overlooked any conflict or used his office for private gain.”
The White House also has not responded to requests for information on Boyle’s financial interests from conservative groups seeking to defend the nominee. The White House’s slowness in turning over information that could help him is further evidence that the administration is not committed to Boyle.
Specter, meanwhile, has done much to turn the tide in Boyle’s favor. Members of Specter’s staff have made themselves available to brief senators seeking more information. So far Republican and Democratic staffers from about 40 Senate offices have met with Judiciary Committee staff over Boyle.