Specter: Mukasey Is 'Still Wearing His Robe'
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) today accused the Bush administration of being overly obstinate on a range of controversial issues, expressing particular frustration at Attorney General Michael Mukasey's unwillingness to compromise.
"Mukasey is non-negotiable," Specter said at a meeting with the Washington Post editorial board. "Mukasey is still wearing his robe."
Feisty and opinionated as ever despite a recent recurrence of Hodgkin's Disease, the top Judiciary Committee Republican was especially pointed on the subject of Mukasey and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, lamenting that the former federal judge refused to budge from the Bush administration's position that telecommunications companies must be granted retroactive immunity for their past cooperation with intelligence operations.
Echoing the complaint of many Democrats, Specter said, "I think retroactive immunity is exactly wrong. ... How can you ask for retroactive immunity in a context where you don't even know what you're immunizing?"
Specter has proposed a compromise by which the U.S. government would be substituted in for telecom companies as the defendant in any lawsuit stemming from warrantless wiretapping operations, but his suggestion has drawn little support from his fellow Republicans and none at all from the White House. Specter complained that he had received "no valid answer" from Mukasey and the administration for why they oppose his plan.
Specter's criticisms go well beyond FISA; he also accused the White House of obduracy on the media shield law, on updating the state secrets law, on the use of national security letters and on the issue of preserving attorney-client privilege for military detainees (Specter called the administration's position on that issue "atrocious"). At every turn, Specter said, Mukasey has been immovable.
"There's nothing that has been proposed that he's proposed to make the slightest concession on. Not anything," Specter said, later adding: "He doesn't have any flexibility."
Spected did give Mukasey faint praise by acknowledging that he was better than his predecessor as attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.
"He's a big improvement," Specter said. "It would be impossible not to be."
"Judge Mukasey is a very learned guy," Specter continued, "but he's a very, very rigid guy. And he was rigid during the confirmation process. He was not easy to deal with when I had the job of shepherding [him] through the confirmation process. But I was for him and I'm still for him compared to either Gonzales or a vacancy."
Specter was similarly downcast on another issue close to his heart: The Senate's progress -- or lack thereof -- in confirming judicial nominations.
"We had a little breakthrough, but so far it's only a little breakthrough," Specter said of a recent bipartisan compromise to allow three circuit-court judges to move through the Senate.
"What I'm looking for is really something more than solving the problem for this year," Specter said. "We really ought to have a truce, and we ought to establish a protocol that will survive whoever controls the White House and whoever controls the Senate."
Many Republicans suspect Democrats are deliberately stalling on Bush's nominees to run out the clock until a Democratic administration can come in and send up new court picks. Specter said there would "absolutely" be payback from Republicans if a Democrat wins the White House and tries to move his or her own judges through the Senate. "The guys in the [GOP] caucus are madder than hell. They can barely wait to retaliate," he said.
On the subject of the supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, Specter -- a senior member of the Appropriations Committee -- predicted that Democrats would eventually cave in to Bush's demands that the measure not include extraneous domestic funding or exceed his total request.
"I think that battle's pretty much over," Specter said of the Iraq funding issue. "I think the next battle line on that is going to be the election, not congressional action."
Specter was speaking of the general election, but the current campaign focus is on home state of Pennsylvania, ground zero of the Democratic nomination fight between Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).
"There was a time about 10 days ago ... that I said publicly I thought Obama was going to win, but ... people are looking for a way to knock Obama down and make more of a horse race out of it," Specter said.
Of Obama's infamous "bitter" comments, Specter said: "I think the guy on the street doesn't care much about 'em. He could have made a better choice of words but I don't think he was out of line on it. He might have been better off if he'd said, 'I said it and I meant it.'"
Specter sees the Clinton campaign as being on the upswing in Pennsylvania, largely due to the efforts of Gov. Ed Rendell (D). "I think Rendell has done a very good job for Hillary, and I think she looks like she's going to be in pretty good shape," he said. "It's by no means certain because the Philadelphia machine, the Philadelphia African-American vote is going to be enormous. There's a lot of pride in Senator Obama."
Specter said the question of whether Obama has enough experience to be president is "a very legitimate, real concern," but he called the Illinois Senator "very intelligent" and "a phenomenon" on the stump. Specter said the two men have a friendly relationship and have joked about having roots in the same state.
"He approached me the other day on the floor and said, 'If a Jewish guy from Kansas can carry Pennsylvania, why can't a black guy from Kansas carry Pennsylvania?'" Specter said.
As for Clinton, Specter called her "very smart and very hard-working," though he cautioned that "you never know exactly where she's coming from."
"I think she sometimes tries too hard," Specter added. "I think it would be refreshing if she didn't have a frozen smile on all the time."
Specter called Clinton "very ambitious," though he said the same thing of Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "The place is loaded with ambitious people, and I think it's healthy," Specter said. "Somebody once told me I was ambitious."
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