Santorum Fights Filibuster, Faces Tough Election

Understanding the Debate

Andrea Seabrook reports on what Pennsylvanians think of the role Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) is playing in the effort to limit the right to filibuster judicial nominees. Santorum is known as a strong social conservative and faces a tough re-election bid in Pennsylvania.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're next going to hear about one person affected by this debate and also involved in it. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is an outspoken social conservative and a leader in the Republican fight to curtail the filibuster. He is also facing a tough battle for re-election next year. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:

The Country Table Restaurant is tucked among the hills of Lancaster County, Amish country, and it's exactly as you'd imagine: traditional home-cooked meat and potatoes, fresh-baked pies for dessert. Michael Geer of the Pennsylvania Family Institute sips his coffee and explains that the people eating here, rural Pennsylvanians, for the most part support traditional, old-fashioned values. Geer says they don't understand it when a court makes it legal for a man to marry another man or a judge rules that the words `under God' should be taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance. According to Geer, these things make Pennsylvanians stop and say...

Mr. MICHAEL GEER (Pennsylvania Family Institute): `Hey, wait a minute. I didn't know judges could make that decision and that doesn't seem to fit with what I think the Constitution says.' So when people remember how courts have taken democracy out of the hands of the people, they then would look at a senator like Rick Santorum and say, `He's doing our work. He's trying to restore the balance of power.'

SEABROOK: Santorum is known and admired, says Geer, for upholding those conservative values in the US Senate, and that's why Pennsylvanians have elected him twice, says Geer.

Mr. GEER: If Senator Santorum walked into this restaurant where we're sitting now, he'd get a strong ovation. People would be very pleased to see him.

SEABROOK: What would you do if Rick Santorum walked through that door right there?

Unidentified Woman #1: I'd probably say, `How do you do, sir? Nice to meet you.'

Unidentified Woman #2: I'd say, `Jan, there's Rick Santorum.'

Unidentified Woman #3: I'm really upset about the judicial system right now, because I think judges are taking too many liberties. They're actually just about changing the law, so to speak, and that's not their job.

SEABROOK: Mary Jane Graynes(ph), Jan Kaylor(ph) and Carol Gokley(ph) speak for many of their neighbors. They think Santorum should keep fighting the filibusters and get more conservative judges approved. Santorum agrees. On this day, he met with constituents at a naval air base and even with military base closings looming, Santorum says the second question he got was about judges. And he says he gets those questions all the time from Pennsylvanians.

Senator RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): I think they understand that something important is going on here that is potentially threatening our ability to have a fair and independent judiciary, and to have the elections in this country matter when it comes to, you know, who fills positions in the executive branch.

SEABROOK: But he also recognizes that with his election coming up in November of next year, voters are watching and, Santorum says, he knows what he'll do.

Sen. SANTORUM: Stand before them and say, `You know, here's why I've done it and you make the decision whether you think that in looking at this as well as a whole lot of other things that I've done, whether that's what you want out of a United States senator.'

SEABROOK: And for Santorum, this election is going to be a doozy. The National Democratic Party has made it a priority to take him down next year, and to that end, they've got a not-so-secret weapon by the name of Robert Casey Jr.

Mr. ROBERT CASEY Jr. (Pennsylvania State Treasurer): As a United States senator, you should not act as a rubber stamp for either party, even when your party's in the White House.

SEABROOK: Bob Casey says he wouldn't, if he were elected to replace Rick Santorum. Casey is the current state treasurer and the son of a popular former governor. What's more, Casey is a social conservative, pro-life, anti-gay marriage, fitting the profile of the rural Pennsylvanian. But Casey is a Democrat and his focus on health care, jobs and education is likely to appeal to the other Pennsylvania, voters who live in big cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Here in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square, workers on lunch break are lolling on the grass while tattooed bike couriers congregate on a wall. It's a long way from Lancaster County. Ian Ray(ph) says he thinks the GOP is being a little hypocritical.

Mr. IAN RAY (Pennsylvania Resident): Well, I mean, I think when the Republicans were filibustering Clinton's nominees, they didn't seem to have a problem with it then, but now that it's become a little bit more inconvenient, now it's a bigger issue.

SEABROOK: And Corey Hilliard(ph) says Democrats should keep fighting.

Mr. COREY HILLIARD (Pennsylvania Resident): I absolutely think it's a necessity that the minority party is allowed to filibuster.

SEABROOK: These Pennsylvanians speak for many of their neighbors, citizens who believe the filibuster should stay in place as a way to keep what they call extremist judges from being named to lifetime appointments. They, too, will be watching the Senate in the coming weeks, and like rural Pennsylvanians, will be making their judgments about whether to rehire Senator Santorum. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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