Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar lashed out at Focus on the Family Thursday, saying the group is using “un-Christian” political tactics in the fight over White House judicial appointments.
Salazar defended Democrats’ right to filibuster objectionable nominees and blasted the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based evangelical Christian group for recent ads urging him to “STOP the nonsense.”
“I do think that what has happened here is there has been a hijacking of the U.S. Senate by what I call the religious right wing of the country,” Salazar told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday.
He singled out Focus on the Family by name, objecting to full-page newspaper ads the ministry’s political arm recently placed, targeting 20 senators in 15 states.
“I think what has happened is Focus on the Family has been hijacking Christianity and become an appendage of the Republican Party,” Salazar said in an interview. “I think it’s using Christianity and religion in a very unprincipled way.”
A spokesman for Focus on the Family fired back, saying Salazar was siding with liberal Democrats who have questioned some judicial nominees about their strong religious views and stalled their nominations.
“I’m flabbergasted the senator would call our Christianity into question,” said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus.
“Some of the nominees will be filibustered by the Democrats because of their religious views. As a Catholic, I would think the senator would be especially alarmed about the anti-Catholicism of some of his colleagues.”
Judicial appointments have been a key issue for evangelical Christian groups, who blame judges for not enforcing decency standards, denying public displays of the Ten Commandments or recently refusing to reinstate a feeding tube for Florida hospital patient Terri Schiavo.
There has been heated rhetoric from all sides this month, as Senate Republicans threaten to seek rule changes giving all judicial nominees a right to an up-or-down vote. As things stand, the minority party can use traditional filibuster procedures to delay an appointment indefinitely unless there are 60 votes to proceed. Republicans currently control 55 seats in the Senate.
If Republicans successfully change the rules, Democrats say they might bring other legislative work to a standstill.
At a press conference with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Salazar said it was wrong for Republicans to end rules that have worked in the U.S. Senate for two centuries. Democrats called that the “nuclear option” because they consider it so drastic.
“Ninety-six percent of his appointees have been confirmed, and yet the president and (Senate) Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) have advocated breaking the rules, trying to get 100 percent,” Salazar said.
Republicans accused Salazar of abandoning a promise from last year’s election campaign. Back then, Salazar told the Rocky Mountain News editorial board that he favored giving all of President Bush’s judicial nominees an up-or-down vote.
“It’s a shame that only months after being sworn in for senator for the state of Colorado, Ken Salazar is already turning his back on voters,” said Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Salazar did not dispute making the campaign pledge. He said he has since learned how traditional filibuster rules help make sure lifetime judicial appointees have at least some support from both political parties.
“I strongly believe there ought to be a bipartisan approach to how we consider judges in the U.S. Senate,” Salazar said.
If Republicans back down from the proposed rule changes, Salazar and Lieberman said they would consider voting to approve some of the seven most controversial nominees whose nominations have been stalled.