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‘Gang’ Returns As Fight Looms

The bipartisan “Gang of 14” will meet for the first time in two months this afternoon in a gathering intended to determine group members’ attitudes on a series of outstanding judicial nominations, according to sources.

The seven Democratic and seven Republican Senators will meet at 1:15 p.m. in the office of Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). While organizers said there was no firm agenda outlined for the meeting, Senators and aides speculated the session largely would focus on the pending nomination of William Haynes to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pryor said there was no specific agenda, but that he anticipated a general discussion among the 14 Senators who last year brokered a deal to avert a procedural showdown that could have put an end to judicial filibusters. Pryor said he was hosting the meeting at the request of a Senator he did not name.

“Since we’re finishing the legislative year, we wanted to see if there was anything still pending, see what might still be out there” in terms of nominations, Pryor said. “Really, tomorrow is about sitting down with each other and touching base.”

Although no specific issue is on the schedule, many close to the gang speculated it is likely to focus most heavily on Haynes’ nomination, given that he came before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. But several other controversial nominees also remain on the Senate’s radar including circuit court hopefuls Terrence Boyle, William Myers and Michael Wallace.

Boyle — probably the most incendiary nominee in the group — on Wednesday provided written answers to a series of questions from Judiciary members. It is unclear, however, whether those answers will curry him any more favor with Senators who have raised conflict of interest questions over some of his previous rulings.

But it is Haynes, general counsel to the Defense Department, who is likely to come to a vote first. Democrats and some moderate Republicans have expressed concerns that Haynes played an integral role in U.S. interrogation and torture policies used at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said Wednesday he doesn’t know when his committee will vote on Haynes, saying that “there are a lot of outstanding questions” that remain despite his three-hour hearing.

“There are more coming,” Specter said. “I can’t even begin to think about it until we get answers to all these questions.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Gang of 14 member, said he doesn’t know the nature of Thursday’s meeting, but plans to attend. Asked about Haynes, McCain said: “I have questions I want answered and he hasn’t answered them yet.”

But, with the election season in full swing and only seven weeks of scheduled legislative time left on the calendar, the chance that the gang will again be called upon to broker a deal on Haynes or another controversial circuit court nominee appear slim. While there are four judicial confirmations that could prompt a revival of the nuclear option fight, none of them enjoys the kind of support within the GOP at this point that would be needed to bring the group in to play.

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