The “Gang of 14” senators scoffed Thursday at reports that their fragile coalition is breaking apart over the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
The seven Democrats and seven Republicans hold the key votes to determine whether the nomination devolves into a contentious fight over judicial filibusters.
They signed an agreement earlier this year pledging to block Democrats’ use of filibuster delaying tactics on judges except in “extraordinary circumstances.” If the 14 senators stay united, they also could prevent Republicans from retaliating with a so-called “nuclear option” by eliminating judicial filibusters altogether.
Recent reports suggested the group was fracturing because at least two Republican members, Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have praised Alito and said they see no possible grounds for “extraordinary circumstances.”
But after huddling Thursday in the office of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., coalition members said none had made any final decisions on Alito or on the question of “extraordinary circumstances.”
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., told reporters the coalition was “not blowing up” and that members agreed to reserve judgment.
DeWine, who faced blistering criticism from conservatives for joining the movement, said the coalition can stay unified even if there are differences of opinion.
“Nowhere did we ever say we’d vote in lockstep together,” DeWine. “The group never said we would vote as a unit.”
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., declared the coalition “stronger than ever” following Thursday’s meeting. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said he urged colleagues to take their time in evaluating Alito, who has 15 years of judicial decisions to be reviewed.
“Our agreement is alive and well,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. “It’s early in the process. We want to go through this together.”
Salazar has said a filibuster remains an option, but that the 14 senators agreed not to make decisions until they learn more from the appeals-court judge’s voluminous legal writings or from his Senate confirmation hearings.
“If we get to the point where things are spinning out of control, we’ll get this group back together,” Salazar said.
(Contact M.E. Sprengelmeyer at SprengelmeyerM(at)shns.com)