to see how last week's terrorist attacks are affecting everything
in Washington? Just look at the Bush administration's ongoing struggle
to place judges on the federal bench.
the Justice Department, there are 108 vacancies on the federal courts.
There are 53 Bush judicial nominations pending before the Senate.
And four judges have actually been confirmed. Republicans had hoped
perhaps naively that slow-moving Senate Judiciary
Committee chairman Patrick Leahy might allow a significant number
of nominations to go through this fall. But now, with members of
Congress focused on issues like antiterrorism, airline bailouts,
and economic stimulus and anxious to finish their work and
head home there's little chance that will happen.
The rush to
adjourn might deprive Republicans of a key weapon in the battle
over judges. During the Clinton years, when Senate Democrats were
in the minority, they were adept at holding up appropriations bills
while demanding that Republicans approve the president's judicial
nominations. It usually worked. This fall, minority Republicans
had been planning to do the same thing as Congress worked its way
through the 13 spending bills that must be passed to keep government
departments running. But now, with all the other issues to consider,
there is talk that, rather than debate each bill separately, Congress
might combine all or most of them into an omnibus spending measure.
That would mean greatly reduced bargaining power for Republicans.
"If that happens, we lose leverage," says one aide. "It's
matters is the White House's understandable focus on the terrorist
crisis. The counsel's office, which handles judicial nominations,
has new legal issues war powers, assassinations, etc.
to consider as the president decides what actions to take against
world terrorist networks. That will inevitably mean less emphasis
It's an enormous
change from just two weeks ago. On September 6, at a meeting between
Bush and congressional leaders, Republicans urged the president
to take a get-tough stance with Leahy on the issue of judges. "If
this continues to get worse, the White House is going to have to
use the bully pulpit to protect their nominees," Republican
Sen. Jeff Sessions told Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper.
That was then. Now, the bully pulpit is reserved for the war on
terrorism, and judges will have to wait.
underscores a new dilemma for Bush. Devoting every ounce of his
administration's energy to the antiterrorism campaign might be the
right thing to do, but it might also mean losing control of important
parts of his domestic agenda. Even as his popularity rises to new
heights, Bush might find himself with less influence on critical
issues like judges. When the president said, the day after the attacks,
that there would be no "business as usual," he was right
more so than anyone could have known.