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GOP Ponders Filibuster

Senate Republicans are considering their first filibuster of one of President Barack Obama’s executive nominees, targeting his pick to run the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel over her stances on abortion, the war on terror and potential prosecutions of Bush administration officials.

Although Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen’s nomination has thus far largely flown under the radar, conservatives have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to her. The Office of Legal Counsel is a particularly powerful office within DOJ, since it essentially acts as the government’s lawyers and helps provide interpretations of federal and international law.

Although Senate Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) declined to comment on a possible filibuster until he meets with Johnsen again before leaving for recess at the end of the week, Republicans confirmed that the filibuster option has been discussed by members of the GOP Conference and that opposition to the nomination is mounting.

“My view is that the nomination should not go forward, and I think most Republicans feel the same way,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who is a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday.

Senate Republicans said Johnsen’s nomination could provide Specter with a second chance to forcefully push back against the Obama administration.

Specter and a handful of other Senate Republicans had serious concerns with the nomination of Attorney General Eric Holder, and Specter and the GOP leadership sought to rally stiff opposition. While Republicans did not believe they could block Holder’s nomination, they had hoped to use the confirmation process to extract hard promises from the administration on a series of issues, including how Holder will approach the use of torture in the war on terror.

But a series of high-profile defections — including that of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) — and a less-than-energetic showing by Republicans at Holder’s confirmation hearings ultimately doomed that effort, and Holder easily won confirmation.

Republicans said Tuesday that while Members have discussed the possibility of a filibuster, it remains unclear whether the GOP will decide to pull the trigger and block Johnsen on the floor.

“I don’t know if the consensus in the Conference is there to take the next step,” a veteran GOP aide said, adding that “certainly no one is comfortable with her” and that after further review, any wayward Members could be persuaded to agree to a filibuster.

Republicans said Johnsen’s record on a number of key issues has done something that has become increasingly rare in their fractured Conference — uniting social conservatives and security hard-liners.

“She’s got one of those résumés that unites the social conservatives and the war-on-terror conservatives,” a GOP leadership aide said. Johnsen has been a vocal critic of how the Bush administration conducted the war on terror and her views have rubbed hawkish conservatives in the GOP the wrong way.

Additionally, Johnsen’s stance on abortion, particularly her opposition to controls on state funding for abortions, has angered the party’s social conservatives. For instance, some 45 House Republicans, including Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), wrote Obama on March 23 urging him to pull her confirmation.

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