Unfinished business re: the Gang of 14
June 2, 2005
Last week, Fox News’ Major Garrett reported that “key Republican sources” told him that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, fearing he didn’t have the votes to pull off the nuclear/constitutional option (to disallow filibusters on judicial nominees), dispatched Senators Lindsey Graham and Mike DeWine to join the Gang of 14 and get the best deal they could.
Fox News Managing Editor Brit Hume may have inadvertently disclosed the identity of the source – Sen. Graham. The roundtable portion of the Wednesday, June 1st “Special Report with Brit Hume” included this discussion between Hume and Fred Barnes.
· Barnes: Here’s what my understanding is. One, there really wasn’t a panic on the part of Bill Frist, although he didn’t know for sure whether they would win the nuclear option, and he didn’t call in DeWine and Lindsey Graham and say “you’d better get with that gaggle of people…
· Hume: That’s what Lindsey Graham claims.
· Barnes: Well, that’s not the way I understand it though – that they, they, uhh. They were his people there -- they would report back to Frist and tell him, uh. Harry Reid had some senators there who would report back to him so he would know what was going on as well on the Democratic side. Uh, the big question is what would Arlen Specter do, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and supposedly they were worried that he would go with the people making the deal, against the nuclear option, and Republicans would lose – Frist would lose.
· Hume: And no judges get through – none of the disputed judges.
· Barnes: But the truth is Frist was not that worried about Specter because of the nature of Specter’s reelection. If you remember his reelection, you had Pat Toomey. He had a very tough primary – won by just a couple of percentage points – mainly because President Bush campaigned for him, but particularly because Rick Santorum, the other Senator (from Pennsylvania), more conservative, backed him to the hilt and really carried him through the primary and then he won the general election, and out of that came the promise as I’ve understood it, from Specter, that when there was an important vote, when the leadership was involved, and his vote really mattered, he would go with the leadership. When it didn’t, he could vote any way. So, they thought they had Specter.
On the same panel, Jeff Birnbaum also opined that Specter was highly unlikely to spoil the nuclear option because of the deal he made to keep his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. Birmbaum said, “He has to be a loyalist in order to keep that job. That job was very important to him. I thought that he was a vote for the nuclear option.”
Hume is not the only person to claim that Graham is the source for the claim that he and DeWine were dispatched by Frist to cut the best deal they could.
A local source told me last week that she was contacted by Graham’s office on Tuesday – one day after the deal was cut. The source, who implored me not to use her name, said in an email, “I was one of several people called by Lindsey's office Tuesday evening. Lindsey wanted to privately convey that he was, in fact, Frist's emissary to cut a deal because the GOP NEVER had the votes. Frist did not want the Democrats to know the GOP was bluffing.”
Frist has publicly denied that he had any connection whatsoever to the deal, and has reportedly condemned the deal privately in very strong terms. The associated press reported on May 28th, “After meeting with the GOP bargainers, he (Frist) walked to the Senate floor to say pointedly he was "not a party" to the pact. The next day, speaking to Republican colleagues, he was more blunt. The seven GOP negotiators, one listener recalled Frist saying, “signed our rights away.”
Someone is obviously not telling the truth.