GOP Confident as Alito Hearings Wrap

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Sen. Specter addresses Senators Leahy, Kennedy and Biden during the third day of confirmation hearings for Alito

Republicans, already sensing that this week's hearings have defanged any real threat to Judge Samuel Alito's confirmation for the Supreme Court, scored a public-relations victory the moment the gavel fell Thursday morning. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced that a search of Library of Congress records demanded by Democrats had been completed at 2 a.m. and that no reference to Alito was found in documents pertaining to the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP). Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) had threatened to push to subpoena the records, which are included in the papers of William A. Rusher, a former publisher of National Review and a founder of the group. Alito, a 1972 graduate, had claimed membership in CAP when he applied to the Reagan Justice Department in 1985, but now says he does not remember it and knows nothing about the group's well-known opposition to coeducation and affirmative action. Specter said his aides searched more than four boxes of files, accompanied by Kennedy's staff. "Judge Alito's name never appeared in any document," Specter said before questioning of Alito resumed. "The files contain canceled checks for subscriptions to CAP's magazine, Prospect, but none from Judge Alito. The files contain dozens of articles, including investigative exposes written at the height of the organization's prominence, but Samuel Alito's name is nowhere to be found in any of them."

A Democratic committee aide, however, said the papers were inconclusive and that the point of airing them was to find something about the group that might jog Alito's memory about his participation. "He used this as a credential when he was applying for a right-wing job, and now he wants to distance himself from the group's positions," the aide said. "What's he padding his resume with now?" Questioning by senators was scheduled to wrap up Thursday, and the hearings might finish the same day if Specter decides to go late enough with outside witnesses. Alito's opponents might make their final protest by delaying for one week the committee vote on his nomination, which is scheduled for Tuesday. Democratic senators are considering the move but have not decided, staff members said.

Kennedy, continuing his aggressive questioning of Alito, said later in the hearing that the committee still does not have "a clear answer to why Judge Alito joined this reprehensible group in the first place," and added that he comes away from the hearing "with even more questions about Judge Alito's commitment to the fairness and equality for all."

Wednesday's session had seen the patina of courtesy stripped away, and raw frustration was evident on both sides of the table. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) noted to Judge Samuel Alito at one point that the day's questioning had been going for 8 1/2 hours, "which means we're both on overtime by any measurable standard of the workplace in America." Throughout the day, the Republican National Committee published a dozen bulletins offering a running critique of the Democrats' questioning, culminating with a 43-point "Summary of Inaccuracies." Democrats also issued more than a dozen documents pointing out supposed contradictions in Alito's testimony, sorted by topic.

Officials in both parties agree that Alito has made no obvious slip-ups, but Democrats complained about his parsimonious answers and spotty memory. Particularly harsh exchanges were prompted when the judge—who is known for his fastidiousness—insisted that he could not remember any of the controversy surrounding CAP, and its opposition to affirmative action and the admission of women at Princeton. "I've said what I can say about what I can recall about this group," Alito said, "which is virtually nothing." He went on to say, "I have wracked my memory on this." He added that while he does not deny he was a member, he did not participate actively or renew his membership.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) did not hide his skepticism over those answers, and engaged in a testy exchange with Specter over his demand to see the Library of Congress papers pertaining to CAP. "We are entitled to this information, said Kennedy. It deals with the fundamental issues of equality and discrimination.... I'd want to give notice to the chair that you're going to hear it again and again and again and we're going to have votes of this committee again and again and again until we have a resolution." Specter shot back: "Well, Senator Kennedy, I'm not concerned about your threats to have votes again, again and again. And I'm the chairman of this committee and I have heard your request and I will consider it. And I'm not going to have you run this committee."

The most dramatic moment of the day came when the judge's wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner, who had been sitting behind him, left the hearing room in tears. She left when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was apologizing to Alito for his treatment by the opposition. Graham, who was present at a White House preparation session for Alito, mocked Democrats for their relentless questioning about the Princeton group by asking Alito rhetorically if he is "really a closet bigot." After Alito replied that he is "not any kind of a bigot," Graham continued: "Guilt by association is going to drive good men and women away from wanting to sit where you're sitting.... Judge Alito, I am sorry that you've had to go through this. I am sorry that your family has had to sit here and listen to this." After a break, the judge escorted his wife back in. Conservatives seized on the incident to complain about Democratic "bullying," and said they plan to make the incident a cause celebre. "When will the media shame these people for their behavior?" Sean Rushton, executive director of the administration-friendly Committee for Justice, asked in a blast e-mail to journalists. The always-alert Creative Response Concepts, a conservative public relations firm, sent this bulletin: "Former Alito clerk Gary Rubman witnessed Mrs. Alito leaving her husband's confirmation in tears and is available for interviews, along with other former Alito clerks who know her personally and are very upset about this development."

In case that was too much trouble for the journalists, the firm also e-mailed out a statement from the Judicial Confirmation Network calling "for the abuse to stop." Questioning continued into the evening. Although aides said they still think the hearing will end Thursday, Specter said he had requests from senators for Friday and Saturday sessions. "I told both of those requesters to stand by," the chairman said.