Less than one year into his second term and already all flavors of the GOP are dissing the Chimp.
As President Bush moves to fill the second vacancy on the Supreme Court, he faces a new challenge in finding a jurist who can not only withstand Democratic scrutiny but hold together the support of Senate Republicans as well.
Now, both socially conservative and more liberal Republican senators say they may vote against confirmation of the next nominee if the pick leans too far to the left or the right on prominent issues like abortion rights.
Any Republican defection could provide cover for Democrats who want to oppose confirmation, protecting them politically in Republican-leaning states. Democrats have vowed to dig in for a tough fight over the nominee to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor because she was a pivotal swing vote on the court.
“It is going to be different,” said Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, who is socially liberal and has said he will vote to confirm Judge Roberts.
Mr. Chafee said he would apply a more skeptical standard to the next nominee because of the balance of the court and might even oppose a jurist similar to Judge Roberts. “I will be looking very carefully” at the next nominee’s views on privacy rights, “separation of church and state,” and the scope of federal power, he said.
Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a Republican who supports abortion rights and has said she will vote to confirm Judge Roberts, took a similar view. She previously voted to confirm some of Mr. Bush’s appeals court nominees who met stiff liberal opposition, like Judge Priscilla R. Owen and Judge Janice Rogers Brown, two people said to be on Mr. Bush’s shortlist. But Ms. Snowe said she might not support either one for the Supreme Court.
“This is certainly a different level of evaluation,” Ms. Snowe said, “especially because of the balance of power on the court.”
On the conservative side of the party, Mr. Brownback and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, another member of the Judiciary Committee, devoted much of their time for questioning Judge Roberts to delivering messages to the White House about the importance of overturning precedents supporting abortion rights.
In an interview last week, Mr. Brownback said he would vote against a nominee who was not “solid and known” on cultural issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and religion in public life.
“If the president doesn’t nominate a solid nominee, that is going counter to what he campaigned on,” Mr. Brownback said. And if such a nominee “involves a contentious battle, then let it be.”
“I think you are going to see a contentious battle regardless of who is nominated,” he added, “even if it is Judge Roberts’s twin brother.”