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Specter: 'I'm pro-choice ... But I don't make the decisions'

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, with CNN's Judy Woodruff Monday on 'Inside Politics.'
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Arlen Specter
Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, an abortion-rights supporter in line to head the Senate Judiciary Committee, reiterated Monday that he would not hold up President Bush's judicial nominees, even if they oppose abortion rights.

Interviewed on CNN's "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics," Specter, who is considered a moderate on the issue, said he has supported judicial nominees in the past who do not agree with the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

WOODRUFF: As Washington looks ahead to the possibility of a new addition to the Supreme Court, a possibility, one Republican has become something of a lightning rod on this issue. He joins us now, Sen. Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania who is in line to become chairman of the judiciary committee. First of all, Sen. Specter, thank you very much for being with us.

SPECTER: Delighted to be here, Judy. Thanks for the invitation.

WOODRUFF: Well, you appear to be in a whole lot of hot water with certain members of your party who are still angry over what you said last week about the problems the president would face if he nominated a Supreme Court justice who favored overturning Roe v. Wade.

SPECTER: Judy, I was not warning the president of anything. It was misreported. What I was saying was that when you have to have 60 votes in order to cut off debate to have cloture and you have 55 Republicans, that's an issue we have to face. And it is just a political fact of life.

WOODRUFF: Have you heard from, in the storm of criticism --and we know now they are actively gearing up to block your move to become chairman -- are you able to have a conversation with some of these folks who are really upset with you still?

SPECTER: Sure. I've had a lot of conversations and when I point out to them what the facts are the going gets easier. When I point out to them that I've never had a litmus test, that I voted for Chief Justice Rehnquist to confirm him and that's long after he wrote against Roe v. Wade, that I voted to confirm Justice Scalia and Justice O'Connor and Justice Kennedy and I almost lost my seat, I led the fight to confirm Justice Thomas and I almost lost my seat as a result of it in the United States Senate. And every one of President Bush's nominees I have supported in the committee and on the floor.

Listen, Judy, those are the facts. It so happens that I'm pro choice. The only pro choice Republican on the committee. But I don't make the decisions. I've supported pro life nominees because it is the function of the president to put up qualified people and a senator to support people who are qualified.

WOODRUFF: What is your view on the possibility that Roe v. Wade might be overturned in part or in whole?

SPECTER: Well, I think that it is difficult because it is a longstanding rule and very distant line, Judy.

WOODRUFF: But would it concern you if it were to be overturned in part or in whole?

SPECTER: I am very much opposed to abortion personally. But I don't think it is the government's rule. But when you talk about overturning Roe v. Wade you have to face up to the fact that it was reaffirmed in 1992 by an opinion written by three justices appointed by Republicans. And one of those justices, Justice Anthony Kennedy is very strong pro life and very conservative. And so is Justice O'Connor. The other Justice Souter not quite in the same camp but I think the reality is that it is hard to overturn.

But look here. I'm giving you my opinion. Under separation of powers, that's not for me to decide. My rule is to look at what the president does, to give him deference because he's the president. Separation of power says the judiciary committee is supposed to confirm qualified judges and then what the Supreme Court does, that is their function, not my function.

WOODRUFF: But when we hear conservatives -- and I interviewed earlier Jan LaRue of Concerned Women for America -- when she says that we need justices who will strictly uphold the letter of the constitution and not interpret it in some way to suit our modern sensibilities in so many words, I'm paraphrasing, in essence she and others are saying we believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

SPECTER: She may be right. And there may be new appointments who will do that. Look here. I think I can help the president....

WOODRUFF: Is that something you can live with?

SPECTER: I believe in the rule of law, Judy. And if the Supreme Court makes a decision, I will abide by what the Supreme Court does.

WOODRUFF: And you're not going to stand in the way of an appointee who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

SPECTER: Absolutely not. And it's not just what I'm saying. I have done it. I have not applied a litmus test. And I voted to confirm pro-life judges. Judy, let me give you two Pennsylvania judges who I worked very hard to confirm. Two very conservative judges Brook Smith and a man named Mike Fisher who ran for governor and we all knew they are pro-life. Let me just finish. It is important. The Democrats opposed them. And I went to the Democrats and persuaded them on the totality of the facts that these were two of President Bush's nominees who ought to be confirmed. They didn't hold my views but they were qualified. And I fought successfully to have them confirmed.

WOODRUFF: But you have some, again, active conservatives who are very upset. Let me just quote to you one thing she said. She said, "I don't" -- in essence, she's not just opposing your move to the chairmanship because of what you said last week. She said "but also a 24-year record on his view of the Constitution which he does hold to be this living and growing document which sounds to me more like he's describing a fungus than the highest law of the land."

So in essence it's your record in the Senate that they are objecting to. What do you say to these individuals who are just fiercely opposed to the idea of your succeeding to chairmanship.

SPECTER: What I'd say to them the facts speak more loudly than those generalizations. And the facts are that I've supported all of President Bush's nominees in committee and on the floor. And I have voted to confirm strict constructionists who are pro-life judges.

It is true that I do not believe you can go back to 1868 when you passed the Equal Protection Clause and look to the intent of the Senate when the gallery was segregated. So, if she's saying there that it is not what they intended in 1868 that can carry forward today, it is true -- that there are those modifications. But I don't think anybody would disagree with that.

WOODRUFF: As you sit here today, Sen. Specter, how confident are you that you -- that the chairmanship will be yours?

SPECTER: Judy, confidence is a word I do not use. I've been in a lot of elections. I don't take anything for granted. I'm talking to my colleagues. I'm leaving no stone unturned. I have been training for this job for a long time. I have been on the committee for 24 years. I think I can help the president, and I think I can help the country. And that's why I've continued to run for the United States Senate.

WOODRUFF: Sen. Arlen Specter joining us this week after the election. Thanks very much.

SPECTER: Nice talking to you, Judy. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it. Congratulations.

SPECTER: Thank you.

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