White House says Leahy is breaking protocol

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(Host) The Bush administration is accusing Senator Patrick Leahy of breaking Senate protocol by refusing to consider a judicial nominee from South Carolina. Leahy’s office says the charge is little more than a right wing political attack.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy’s leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee is coming under strong criticism from the Bush administration.

In an interview with Vermont Public Radio on Friday morning, White House Spokesperson Ari Fleischer accused Leahy of blocking dozens of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Fleischer said Leahy had broken a long standing Senate tradition when he made a commitment to schedule a vote on a judicial nominee and then broke that promise:

(Fleischer) “The Senate, I regret to say, under Senator Leahy has really dragged its feet and has failed to confirm nominees. And most recently Senator Thurmond, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee received a commitment from Senator Leahy about the confirmation of a judge from South Carolina and I’m sad to say that commitment was not honored. It was a real breach of Senate protocol. And so there are some raw feelings about what’s happening in the Senate and it’s a disappointment.”

(Kinzel) Senator Leahy was not available for comment but his press secretary, David Carle, said Fleischer’s comments were part of a coordinated effort to discredit Leahy:

(Carle) “The president’s been stepping up his politicking and Ari Fleischer and the White House staff have their orders. What this is all about is an effort to energize the right wing of the Republican base weeks before an election. Ari Fleischer is wrong, he knows he’s wrong and he stooped to demagogic political swings like this for purely political reasons.”

(Kinzel) Carle says Leahy had scheduled a vote on the South Carolina judge for earlier this week but that the lengthy debate over the Iraq resolution forced a delay in the committee’s review of the nominee.

Carle says the Judiciary Committee has given its approval to 98 of 100 of Bush’s judicial nominees and that this record is much better than the one compiled by the Republican controlled Senate during the Clinton years.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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