Former Sen. Rick Santorum’s (Pa.) support for a troubled Clinton administration judicial nominee is drawing fresh scrutiny from conservatives as the GOP presidential candidate struggles to regain his footing against presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
Some Republicans see Santorum’s 1998 backing of Frederica Massiah-Jackson to be a district court judge in Philadelphia as conflicting with the staunch conservative persona he has put forward.
President Bill Clinton withdrew Massiah-Jackson’s nomination March 16, 1998, one day before the Senate was going to vote — and likely not confirm her. She had been accused of being biased against police and prosecutors by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, including the Philadelphia district attorney, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 5 and the National Association of Police Officers.
A former Judiciary Committee GOP staffer believes the incident shows that Santorum is not the conservative stalwart he claims to be and that he was too deferential to centrist Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania’s senior Republican Senator at the time.
“While Santorum holds himself out during this campaign to be a tried and true conservative, his Senate record says differently,” the committee staffer said. “His support of labor and earmarks came out during the debates, and the Massiah-Jackson issue is another instance of that, and a egregious one. He practically outsourced all Pennsylvania judges to Arlen Specter.”
A spokesman for the Santorum campaign did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Critics of Santorum argue that his support of earmarks for his state — which conservatives began to oppose in recent years because they often fund what they argue are wasteful pet projects — call into question his conservative bona fides.
There has also been criticism of Santorum’s backing of the Davis-Bacon Act, a Depression-era law that requires workers be paid prevailing wages on federally funded projects. Republicans typically oppose Davis-Bacon because they argue it raises the cost of projects.
In a debate in February, Santorum defended earmarks, arguing that some are good and some are bad and that there was abuse of the process. With regard to Davis-Bacon, in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club in February, Santorum said, “I’ve been attacked as the ‘big union’ Republican ... But I went back to look at my AFL-CIO scorecard, and I had a 13 percent rating. If that’s ‘big union’ in the Republican Party, I guess we’ve narrowed the field quite a bit, haven’t we?”
A GOP strategist said that the Massiah-Jackson incident only further highlights the “weakness in his narrative.”
“Santorum claims to have a staunch, solid conservative record, but the debates revealed his support for earmarks and being an insider, part of the ‘Washington Club,’ and this is further evidence of that,” the strategist continued.
“He will make exceptions,” the strategist said, which leads to inconsistencies in his positions — something that gives some conservatives pause.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.