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Leahy Tries to Head Off Confirmation Brawl

Leahy said that during his initial discussions with Obama, he urged the president to follow the process for selecting a nominee that Bush used in tapping Roberts, including reaching out to members of both parties to discuss the nomination and holding a meeting with Leahy, Sessions, Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Obama hosted that meeting earlier this month.

Similarly, Leahy said he would like to use a hearing process similar to the one that he and then-Chairman Arlen Specter (Pa.) used during the Roberts nomination. While those hearings featured outside experts brought in by both sides, most of the focus was on Roberts himself, and Specter and Leahy sought to provide Democrats and Republicans alike with ample opportunity to fully question Roberts before voting on his nomination.

“Everybody has different ways of doing it, but the way Sen. Specter and I tried to do it with Chief Justice Roberts and Alito was to make sure everybody on both sides got to ask all the questions they want,” Leahy said, adding that he hopes he and Sessions can keep any partisan grandstanding by members of the committee to a minimum.

Leahy said his shared past with Sessions — both were federal prosecutors — has helped them develop a close personal relationship over the years. “We end up in the Senators’ dining room saying, ‘Did you ever have a case that involved whatever’ ... and we talk like that,” Leahy said, adding that he and Sessions have talked several times in recent weeks. “I’ve talked with Jeff already several times. We have a good personal relationship.”

Leahy dismissed concerns among liberals that Sessions’ more conservative positions compared to Specter’s could mean a bruising fight.

“Is he more conservative? Sure,” Leahy said. But while conservative activists were agitating for Republicans to block the nomination of Eric Holder as attorney general, Sessions supported him.

“Jeff Sessions voted for Eric Holder. He asked tough questions, but he voted for him.”

Sessions said he and Leahy have a good personal and working relationship. “He’s a lot of fun, and I hope we have a good hearing,” Sessions said, adding he was pleased that Leahy had agreed to split funding for the process evenly. “Oh, he’s so sweet to me,” Sessions quipped.

Leahy said he believes that while outside testimony is helpful, Members should use the nominee’s record and responses to questioning as the test for whether they will support him.

Leahy said that he, like most of the members of the Judiciary Committee, initially supported President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the high court, but that changed during questioning by the committee.

“When Bork came in before the thing started, he probably had all but two or three votes on the committee ... myself included,” Leahy said. Bork’s conflicting answers to questions ultimately led him to oppose the nomination, Leahy said.

Leahy also decried the use of the nomination process by groups across the political spectrum as a fundraising and organizing opportunity, pointing to statements by conservative leaders that they would use the pending nomination to whip up the base of the Republican Party, even before a nominee has been announced.

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