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Gang of 14 not settled on Kavanaugh

Bipartisan Senate group asks new hearing on Boyle

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Brett Kavanaugh, right, with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove during a 2004 campaign trip.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The bipartisan "Gang of 14" senators met Wednesday on two of President Bush's judicial nominees, with members reserving judgment on one candidate and asking for a new hearing on the other.

The Gang of 14 brokered a standoff over the threatened Democratic filibusters of judicial appointments last year.

The move allowed a number of controversial pending nominees to receive confirmation. In exchange, the senators pledged support for Bush's nominees, barring undefined "extraordinary circumstances."

Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina summed up Wednesday's meeting by saying that "some people have not yet made the judgment" that "extraordinary circumstances" don't apply to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination.

But, he said, "there's a generally good feeling about him" within the group.

Kavanaugh, whose nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee, met with the committee Tuesday for the second time in three years. (Full story)

The D.C. court is considered by many to be second only to the U.S. Supreme Court in prestige among judicial panels in the country. Four of the high court's current members served on the D.C. Circuit. (Watch how the politics of judicial nominees works -- 2:30)

The Judiciary Committee plans to vote Thursday on Kavanaugh's nomination, and Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, has vowed a vote by the full Senate would take place before Memorial Day, May 29.

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska said the Gang of 14 would continue to monitor the progress of Kavanaugh's confirmation, and if a member of the group thinks there are "extraordinary circumstances," it will be dealt with then.

The Gang of 14 decided to send a letter to the Judiciary Committee's leadership on the nomination of Terrence Boyle, a U.S. district judge from North Carolina being considered for a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

The letter asks for a new hearing to examine allegations that Boyle, whose nomination also has languished for years, improperly ruled on cases in which he had a financial interest. The White House denies the judge used his office for private gain.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, urged Bush on Tuesday to withdraw Boyle's nomination.

According to a Reuters report, Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, a member of the Gang of 14, on Wednesday likewise urged the White House to withdraw Boyle's nomination.

Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was quoted Wednesday by Reuters as saying that "Republicans of good will should rise up and signal enough is enough" on Boyle's nomination.

Frist has said he would push for Boyle's confirmation after any vote on Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh, 41, staff secretary at the White House, handles a wide range of legal issues that come before President Bush. The D.C. native was first nominated to the court seat in 2003.

Democrats pressed for the new hearing to question Kavanaugh over what role he might have played in the administration's secret wiretapping program of Americans suspected of terrorist ties.

They also wanted to know about any dealings he might have had with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Kavanaugh, a former deputy to Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who led the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton administration, told the committee Tuesday he dealt neither with Abramoff nor with the wiretap issue.

He also denied developing legal policy on the physical treatment of Iraqi and other Muslim detainees held in U.S. military custody, which critics said amounted to torture.

In an unusual move, the American Bar Association recently downgraded its rating of Kavanaugh from "well-qualified" to "qualified" after a new round of interviews with colleagues raised concerns over "the breadth of his professional experience." (Full story)

The fights over Kavanaugh and Boyle are part of a broader election-year strategy by Republicans to fortify their voter base by tying judicial nominations to an ideological struggle over issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

In a year when lobbying scandals, the war in Iraq and gas prices have eroded public confidence in the Bush administration, the confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court were considered success stories for the GOP.

Some conservatives have privately grumbled the White House and Senate Republicans have not fought hard enough for Kavanaugh and Boyle, and have been slow to put forward names of about 20 pending nominations on the federal bench.

Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Bush's top political adviser, assured GOP lawmakers Monday those names would soon be sent to Congress for consideration.

CNN's Dana Bash and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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