Democrats: Bush pushing 'right-wing' judges
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush, trying to turn up the heat on Senate Democrats, for the second time in a week accused them Thursday of undermining the administration of justice, and demanded that they approve more of his judicial nominees.
Democrats countered that they are acting quickly and accused the president of pushing "right-wing" selections for the federal bench.
Bush spoke exactly one year after his submission to the Senate of his first 11 judicial nominees. The Senate has not held hearings for eight of those.
"We have a vacancy crisis in America," Bush said in a White House meeting with Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "There are too many seats that aren't filled with judges and therefore America hurts. America's not getting the justice it needs."
Democrats, however, maintain that they are considering nominees at a rate better than the GOP did when it controlled the Senate and President Clinton occupied the White House.
The two sides traded selected statistics to prove their points.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Clinton's first 11 judicial nominations were confirmed in 112 days, the elder President Bush's first 11 nominations were confirmed in 88 days, and President Reagan's were confirmed in 39 days.
Bush said the Senate has approved only seven of his nominees for the 30 vacancies on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"This is a bad record, and it is a record that's bad for the country," Bush said.
Democrats, in a news conference of their own, argued that the Democratically controlled Senate has moved faster on judicial nominations than the Republicans did when they were in control.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that in the 10 months of Democratic leadership in the Senate, that body has confirmed 56 judges, more than were confirmed during all 12 months in the years 2000, 1999, 1997 and 1996, when Republicans controlled the Senate.
"Through a variety of good-faith steps that Senate Democrats have taken, the judicial nominations process today is markedly faster and fairer than it has been," Leahy said.
The Democrats said it is their responsibility to stop Bush from filling the federal bench with conservatives.
"The president pledged in the campaign to the hard right that he wanted to pack the courts with Scalias and Thomases, people far out of the mainstream, and now they are trying to avoid any real examination of how out of the mainstream those judges are," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.
"Mr. President, you want to speed the process up and deal with vacancies? Work with us. Nominate judges from the mainstream, consult with us and you will find these, your nominees, will go through like a hot knife through butter," Schumer said.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, added, "I can only see Republican complaints as an effort to bully Senate Democrats into rubber stamping their right-wing judicial nominees. Republicans don't understand that the issues at stake go far beyond partisan games. This debate is about lifetime appointment to the courts that decide cases that shape the lives of all American people."
Senate Republicans, in an effort coordinated with the White House, had their own press conference Thursday morning and went one-by-one to the Senate floor to complain about what they called a "judicial crisis."
The issue of judicial nominations has taken on more overt partisan tones in recent years with Democrats and Republicans trading charges of delay tactics and smear campaigns.
With Bush in the White House, it's the Republicans turn to lead the charges.
"Ours is a system that relies upon an independent court system," Bush said. "When there (are) vacancies, the American people suffer. And I call upon the Senate to approve -- at least give hearings to -- people we have sent out to the Senate."
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