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Mehlman: RNC Poll Vindicates Stance on Judges

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman will urge GOP Senators today to keep their message simple on the fight over judicial nominees, backed by polling results that show the issue to be a winner for the party.

The most potent argument for Republicans, according to a memo Mehlman will present at the weekly Senate GOP lunch today, is that the party’s parliamentary move is aimed at ensuring up-or-down votes on judicial nominees put forward by President Bush.

“Any way you ask the question, overwhelming majorities of Americans believe all judicial nominees deserve an up-or-down vote in the Senate, especially when they have majority support,” Mehlman writes in the memo. “This simple point is our best argument because it is consistent with fundamental fairness.”

As evidence, Mehlman cites polling information that reveals that 81 percent of those tested agree with the idea that “even if they disagree with a judge, Senate Democrats should at least allow the President’s nominations to be voted on.” Only 18 percent disagree with that statement.

The poll, which was paid for by the RNC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was conducted by Voter/Consumer Research’s Jan van Lohuizen, who also served as Bush’s pollster during his 2004 re-election race. It sampled 801 registered voters nationwide from April 17 to 19. The RNC also conducted focus groups on the issue.

The results stand in stark contrast to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday afternoon that showed voters by a 2-to-1 margin against changing Senate rules to bar Democrats from opposing Bush’s judicial nominees.

Mehlman’s expected remarks at the gathering of GOP Senators represent the latest attempt to sharpen and refine the language Republicans are using when discussing their attempts to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees.

Republican strategists have privately acknowledged that Democrats have more effectively communicated their opposition to such a rule change in the months leading up to an expected vote on the “nuclear” or “constitutional” option.

Much of the Democratic argument centers on the sacredness of the filibuster as it relates to the deliberative process in the Senate.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that “the RNC must be polling Americans who have never read the Constitution or a U.S. history book. “According to every other poll we’ve seen, the American people have rejected the nuclear option for what it is: unconstitutional,” Manley added.

Mehlman will seek to directly counter that argument today, arguing in the memo that “Democrat[ic] obstructionism changes 214 years of a Senate tradition in which judicial nominees who had majority support always received an up-or-down vote.”

In an e-mail Mehlman sent to RNC supporters Monday night, he hammered home that notion, writing that “during the Clinton Administration, Democrats demanded up-or-down majority votes on judicial nominations, but now that they are in the minority, they have become the party of obstructionism and double standards.”

Manley countered that during then-President Bill Clinton’s eight years in office more than 60 judges never even received a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee — much less a vote on the floor.

Though critics will quibble with the poll’s wording, the RNC survey seems to suggest that making sure candidates get an up-or-down vote has significant popular support.

Sixty-four percent of those asked would choose to “change the procedure to make sure the full Senate gets to vote, up or down, on every judge the President nominates.” By contrast, just 28 percent said that they favor making sure “Senate procedures stay in place that allow the minority party to block any judge whose views they disagree with.”

Self-described conservatives favored the former option 78 percent to 13 percent. Moderates were inclined to change the rules by a 59 percent to 34 margin; and even self-identifying liberals opposed the change by only 51 percent to 42 percent.

With Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) likely to trigger a vote on eliminating judicial filibusters following next week’s Senate recess, both sides are trying to gauge the potential political effects of a Senate slowdown in its aftermath.

The GOP paid a steep political price for the government shutdown it engineered in 1995 as a protest against Clinton, losing eight House seats in the 1996 election.

Mehlman argues that a similar scenario awaits Democrats should they employ obstructionist tactics following a filibuster vote.

Sixty-five percent of the sample disapproved of the following statement: “Senate Democrats have said if Republicans pass a rule taking away their ability to block votes on judicial nominees, they will block any further legislation in the Senate.”

That statement, however, does not portray Democrats’ threats entirely accurately. Reid has said repeatedly that his party will not block or slow any legislation considered vital to national security, choosing instead to pick its spots legislatively.

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