Though Reid opposed Southwick’s confirmation and civil rights groups were up in arms last month over his nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Majority Leader’s decision both to keep potentially poisonous rhetoric at a minimum and to refrain from whipping his party against Southwick allowed a cadre of Democrats and Republicans to forge a deal on his confirmation.
“With these kinds of nominations, it’s very hard to highlight a party position,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. He added, “This gets to the core of what the Senate is all about — the traditional role of advice and consent. ... In the end, it’s up to each individual Senator to decide how they’re going to vote on these nominees.”
Reid said last week that Judiciary members had asked him to keep mum on his own position, but he acknowledged being troubled that Mukasey twice declined to define waterboarding as torture.
“He’s not going to get ahead of the committee,” Manley said of Reid, adding the Majority Leader may announce his position following the committee vote today.
Similarly, Leahy spokeswoman Erica Chabot steered clear of her boss’s behind-the-scenes activities, saying, “The chairman is focusing on a vote in committee, and it is up to the leadership how the vote proceeds after the committee meets.”
Despite his plans to vote against the nominee, Leahy has attempted to dissuade — with apparent success — fellow Judiciary Democrats from asking for a postponement of today’s vote, sources said. Committee rules allow a one-week deferment at any Member’s request.
Senate Republicans said Democrats would be wise to avoid a slow-walk of Mukasey.
Delaying the nomination would “continue to perpetuate the theme of partisanship and inaction that have been the hallmarks of this Congress. Second, Democrats would once again be standing on the side of rights for terrorists instead of what’s in the best interests of America’s national security,” one Senate GOP aide said. “Neither of those messages would resonate well with independent voters.”
With their leader suppressing their desire to filibuster Mukasey, anti-torture Democrats may have found another outlet for their outrage — a Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) bill to specifically outlaw the type of “torture” Mukasey refused to recognize, along with several others barred by the Army Field Manual.
In her statement of support for Mukasey, Feinstein said Congress simply should outlaw waterboarding rather than relying on any attorney general to decide whether it amounted to illegal torture.
But some Democrats are concerned that outlawing specific acts of torture could leave the door open for the U.S. government to use other types of torment not covered by the law.
“Others might be fair game. That’s the fear,” said one Senate Democratic aide. “On the surface, it looks like a good bill.”
The Kennedy bill could come up as an amendment during the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Thursday.