Judge Alito's U.S. Senate Charm Campaign

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Third Circuit Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito began visiting with members of the U.S. Senate shortly after President Bush announced his nomination to the nation's highest court. Noah Adams speaks with NPR Capitol Hill correspondent David Welna about what kind of reception Judge Alito may get in the Senate.


Judge Alito is already making the rounds on Capitol Hill today. He's meeting many of the same Republican senators who were skeptical of the former nominee, Harriet Miers. The White House hopes that Judge Alito will impress members--at least those in the president's own party. Here is what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had to say about Alito this morning.

Senator BILL FIRST (Majority Leader): There's going to be a lot of positioning from a political standpoint, and I think you've seen it, and it's from some expected voices on, I'll say, both sides of the aisle. As leadership, we're going to plow through that, and we're going to stay above it, and it's going to be tough. People know the climate here in Washington right now is very partisan.

ADAMS: And joining us now to talk about Judge Alito's prospects in the Senate is NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna.

David, this would be a day that a judge would shine his shoes and walk around Capitol Hill.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Indeed, Noah. In fact that's exactly what Alito was doing this morning. He came over and first paid his respects to the remains of Rosa Parks in the Capitol Rotunda with Majority Leader Frist, and he then went to a press conference where Republican leaders joined him at his side. And it was clear that there is a kind of unanimity of support among Republicans in very marked contrast to the division among them over Harriet Miers. Bill Frist, the majority leader in fact, was one of those who supported Miers and was--in a sense, he was among those defeated last week with her withdrawal from consideration. But Republicans are saying this is the kind of nominee that President Bush campaigned and promised to nominate in the mold of associate Justice Antonin Scalia. And in fact, some call Alito `Scalito,' because his rulings on the federal bench in the past 15 years are so much in line with the very conservative rulings of Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

ADAMS: Yes, we mentioned that a bit earlier. The Democrats' side here--Democrats remained pretty quiet while Harriet Miers was under consideration because that fight was going on, on the right. How have Democrats reacted this early--early on this Monday to Judge Alito?

WELNA: Not very favorably. In fact, I have not heard one really positive reaction to President Bush's choice for the bench from Democrats this morning, and what we're hearing from them is a couple of things. One, they say that President Bush blew a chance to name another woman to the bench. Now there will only be one woman on the Supreme Court if Alito is confirmed, taking the place of Sandra Day O'Connor. They're also saying that because O'Connor was a swing vote on many key issues that to keep that kind of balance on the court President Bush should have chosen somebody much more in the political center with views seen as mainstream. They consider Alito to be somebody out on the fringes, and in fact, we're getting reaction from Democrats saying that this was President Bush caving in to pressure from the right wing of his party, and the White House is very much under duress right now, caving on this. So I think what we're hearing today we're going to hear much more of in the weeks to come.

ADAMS: And briefly, David, the timing now of confirmation hearings. What do you think?

WELNA: Well, I think it's going to be a real bone of contention how fast they're going to go with this. The Senate is, of course, breaking for Thanksgiving, and they really didn't have plans to come back in December. And you know, this is very little time for them to hold hearings on this nomination, and they might have to come back in January to hold a vote on Alito. Now Sandra Day O'Connor has said she'll stay on the Supreme Court until her successor is confirmed, and Democrats are saying, `Let's not rush this. Let's do this the right way and not the fast way.'

ADAMS: David Welna, NPR's congressional correspondent. Thank you, David.

WELNA: You're welcome, Noah.

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