‘Nuke’ Ads Targeting Frist, DeLay

Posted May 4, 2005 at 6:47pm

Liberal activists are taking the fight over judges to the backyards of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) this week, running ads in the leaders’ home states asking them to repudiate televangelist Pat Robertson’s recent comments that federal judges are more dangerous to American democracy than terrorists.

As the latest salvo in the escalating partisan war over the federal judiciary’s power and Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees, the initial $50,000 ad buy — paid for by MoveOn.org’s political action committee — will run in Nashville, Tenn., Houston and Washington, D.C., on cable television starting today. MoveOn PAC officials said they hope to buy more ad time as their fundraising numbers for the project go up.

The ad script asks whether Frist and DeLay will “continue to pander to the radical fringe or will they have the guts to repudiate Pat Robertson and all the others who are threatening our federal judges?”

On ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos last Sunday, Robertson, who founded the Christian Broadcast Network, said that judges are posing a more serious threat to the United States than have the terrorist network al Qaeda and Nazi Germany during World War II.

Asked by Stephanopoulos how he could say “judges are a more serious threat than Islamic terrorists who slammed into the World Trade Center” on Sept. 11, 2001, Robertson replied, “If you look over the course of a hundred years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that’s held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings.”

DeLay spokesman Dan Allen shrugged off the ads, saying, “This is just another partisan attack by a liberal interest group working in tandem with House Democrats trying to distract House Republicans from moving forward on our agenda.”

Of Robertson’s remarks, Allen added, “Mr. Robertson clearly can speak for himself. The Majority Leader has been very encouraged by the war on terrorism, specifically the capture of the number three leader of al Qaeda recently.”

Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson also declined to comment on Robertson’s remarks but said of the ads, “We have no response to any organization who once sponsored an ad comparing [the president] to Hitler.”

DeLay caused a minor furor in the past few months for comments that suggested Republicans in Congress might seek retribution against federal judges who issue rulings with which Republicans disagree.

DeLay later apologized for saying, “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.” He made the remark after Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman, died following federal and state judges’ refusal to order her feeding tube reinserted.

Robertson’s comments on Sunday only served to reignite liberal passions over what they see as a Republican attempt to intimidate judges and the callous political use of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In a conference call with MoveOn PAC representatives Wednesday, Adele Welty, the mother of a firefighter who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, said Robertson’s remarks made the deaths of nearly 3,000 people that day “sound like a harmless prank.”

People who “use 9/11 as a figure of speech … have no concept of the pain they evoke for families who are still looking at an empty chair at the kitchen table,” Welty said, audibly upset.

MoveOn PAC Advocacy Director Ben Brandzel said Robertson’s remarks appear to be a deliberate attempt to threaten and intimidate federal judges into adopting a conservative judicial agenda and philosophy or face impeachment.

“These were not off-the-cuff remarks. They were carefully chosen words that were questioned and defended,” said Brandzel.

Though the MoveOn PAC ad does not mention Frist’s anticipated use of the “nuclear” option to end Democratic filibusters of a handful of President Bush’s judicial nominees, Brandzel said Robertson’s comments appear to be part of a Republican strategy to “demonize American judges” so that it will seem more appropriate to use the nuclear option and “stack the courts with far-right judges.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also has been using Robertson’s remarks in fundraising pitches to donors. A fundraising letter sent Wednesday states, “These kind of irresponsible and dangerous falsehoods have no place in mature political discourse. But Senate Republicans — Robertson’s ideological allies — have steadfastly refused to condemn these scurrilous remarks.”

DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who was at “Ground Zero” in lower Manhattan on Tuesday, took issue with Robertson’s remarks and lambasted Frist and Republicans for not denouncing them as extremist. “We haven’t heard a peep out of Republican leadership denouncing it,” Schumer said.

In addition, another liberal group, Alliance for Justice, decided to expand its ad campaign this week, buying air time in Alaska. The decision is designed to heighten pressure on Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has declined to take a position on the nuclear option issue. The group’s “Save Phil” campaign, featuring a fictional character named Phil A. Buster, had been running in other states with undecided Senators and in a national cable TV rotation.

As the DSCC and their allies pushed the issue, so too did Frist, who is in the Middle East during the Senate recess. Frist announced the debut of a Web site devoted solely to fighting filibusters in an e-mail sent to supporters of his leadership political action committee. The offshoot of his VOLPAC site, fairvotesforjudges.com, has a link allowing supporters to get in touch with every Senate Democrat to urge them to end the filibuster.

On the site, Frist tells his supporters that he will force some sort of solution to get simply majority votes on judicial nominees.

“If the minority insists on judicial obstruction, we’ll have to consider other options. Either way — we’re going to make sure that judicial nominees that come to the Senate floor get the fair up-or-down votes they deserve,” he wrote.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.