Earlier this year when Arlen Specter was still a Republican, the Pennsylvania senator was among the harshest critics of Dawn Johnsen, the Indiana University law professor who is President Obama’s pick to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
The OLC is the office that housed such Bush-era luminaries as John Yoo and Jay Bybee, and issued the infamous “torture memos” that defined torture so narrowly that even waterboarding — which had always been considered a form of torture before, even by the United States — now passed legal muster. Johnsen was one of many critics of that office’s legal opinions during the Bush presidency, earning her the lingering ire of many Republicans.
Among them was Specter, who, during her confirmation hearing in February, took the lead in painting her as a radical left-wing ideologue. In April, even after switching parties, he reaffirmed that he was still opposed to her nomination. As a result of the staunch opposition of Specter, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and most Republicans, the Office of Legal Counsel has gone without a confirmed leader to advise the president on critical legal issues, such as the use of warrantless wiretapping and the treatment and trials of suspected terrorists and “war on terror” detainees.
But now, it looks like Specter may be changing his mind. Specter’s press secretary, Kate Kelly, emailed me Thursday with this:
Senator Specter has several concerns about Ms. Johnsen’s nomination, including her views on executive power and abortion. Senator Specter is solidly pro-choice, but he disagrees with her position equating limitations with involuntary servitude. Senator Specter had a second meeting with her to get clarification on her positions and he is still considering her nomination.
As I pointed out during Johnsen’s confirmation hearing, Specter grilled her on a footnote buried in a friend-of-the-court brief she’d co-authored with 10 other lawyers representing 77 different public interest organizations, 20 years ago in an abortion rights case when she was a lawyer for the National Abortion Rights Action League. The footnote said that laws curtailing the right to an abortion “are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the 13th Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires [a woman] to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest.”
“When I read in your writings that abortion bans are a violation of the 13th Amendment ban on slavery,” Specter chastised Johnsen at her confirmation hearing, “that seems to me candidly beyond the pale.”
Johnsen, flustered, responded that, as far as she could remember, she hadn’t actually equated outlawing abortion with slavery, but was just making an analogy. Anyway, the point, while creative, was pretty tangential to the core of the brief’s argument. It was, after all, relegated to footnote 23. But that clearly did not satisfy Specter, who remained firmly opposed to her nomination.
The change is consistent with Specter’s overall transformation, captured well by Nate Silver’s Specterometer at FiveThirtyEight.com. According to Silver’s analysis, after switching parties on April 28th, Specter started out voting with the Democrats on “contentious votes” about two-thirds of the time. But since Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) announced on May 27 that he plans to challenge Specter in the 2010 Democratic primary, Specter has become a far more loyal party member, voting with the party on “contentious votes” 97 percent of the time.
That was Silver’s count in July, and I don’t have the count to date, but it does give some indication as to why Specter decided to meet with Johnsen a second time, and is now “reconsidering” which way he’ll vote on her nomination.
Rep. Paul Ryan to deliver SOTU response
Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union Tuesday, according to Mike Allen
Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.)
One of the most conservative Democrats in the House -- a freshman who said he couldn’t support Nancy Pelosi again -- is going to switch over to the GOP. Josh
Rep. Paulsen allies with medical device industry to relax FDA oversight
Source: Flickr; Republicanconference (www.flickr.com/photos/republicanconference) On the heels of the Minnesota Independent story last week about U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s cozy financial relationship with the medical device industry, the New York Times reported Tuesday that some health professionals are alarmed by Paulsen’s push to relax Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight
Rep. Patrick McHenry: Please, Conservatives, Fill Out Your Census Forms!
The conservative congressman from North Carolina, a constant critic of the census -- one of the people who sounded the alarm about politicization when the
Rep. Paulsen touts balanced budget constitutional amendment
In a post for the conservative blog True North , U.S. Rep
Rep. Perlmutter criticizes House measure that would eliminate 800K federal jobs
Congressman Ed Perlmutter today issued a scathing statement criticizing the House of Representatives for passing a spending bill that could put nearly a million federal employees out of work. The Colorado delegation voted strictly on party lines, with all four Republicans voting in favor of the bill and the three Democrats voting in opposition. Perlmutter’s statement: “My number one priority is to get people back to work because that’s the best thing we can do to pay our debt and move forward toward economic stability
Rep. Peace, ACLU seek investigation of soldier’s allegations of racial discrimination in Afghanistan
Both Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) and the American Civil Liberties Union agree: There needs to be an investigation into Spc.
Rep. Paulsen, Karl Rove the latest to get ‘glittered’
Rep. Erik Paulsen and former Bush staffer Karl Rove were both showered with glitter at the Midwest Leadership Conference Friday
Rep. Pete Hoekstra Surging in Michigan Gubernatorial Bid
The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee -- you couldn’t flip on a TV without seeing him in the aftermath of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s botched
School of Hock
A growing number of college grads are defaulting on their student loans as the economy worsens.