Top Senate Democrats acknowledged Wednesday that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts is assured of confirmation as the nation's 17th chief justice.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said he urged the president at a breakfast meeting to postpone picking a successor for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush would move ahead "in a timely manner."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, also at the breakfast, is pushing for Bush to name a nominee within the next 10 days.
The Judiciary Committee votes on Roberts Thursday; the full Senate debate is next week. Roberts, 50, a federal appeals court judge, picked up unexpected support when Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's top Democrat, announced he will back Bush's choice to succeed the late William Rehnquist - even though a 'no' vote would be "easier and more popular" in Vermont.
Two other prominent Democrats, Edward Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts, joined Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in announcing their opposition to Roberts. Kennedy cited Roberts' "reluctance to distance himself" from positions he took as a young lawyer against expanding rights for women and minorities, but acknowledged that "the votes aren't there" to block Roberts, reports USA Today.
According to the AP, some of the Democrats' liberal supporters hoped a strong vote against Roberts would signal to Bush that if he were to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with a far-right conservative, it would lead to a bigger fight in the Senate.
Leahy, who has led filibuster fights against Bush's lower court nominees, said in a Senate speech, "I do not intend to lend my support to an effort by this president to move the Supreme Court and the law radically to the right."
But Roberts "is a man of integrity," said Leahy, who told Roberts over the telephone about his decision. "I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda."
Other Democrats, including Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana, also have announced their support. Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana are leaning toward voting for Roberts. Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota is viewed as a possible vote for him, as well.