Frist Plays God Card on Judges
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is set to join televangelists in calling Democrats “against people of faith” on judicial nominees.
As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as “against people of faith” for blocking President Bush’s nominees. Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of April 24, call the day “Justice Sunday” and depict a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name participants, but under the heading “the filibuster against people of faith,” it reads: “The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith.” Organizers say they hope to reach more than a million people by distributing the telecast to churches around the country, over the Internet and over Christian television and radio networks and stations.
Dr. Frist’s spokesman said the senator’s speech in the telecast would reflect his previous remarks on judicial appointments. In the past he has consistently balanced a determination “not to yield” on the president’s nominees with appeals to the Democrats for compromise. He has distanced himself from the statements of others like the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, who have attacked the courts, saying they are too liberal, “run amok” or are hostile to Christianity.
The telecast, however, will put Dr. Frist in a very different context. Asked about Dr. Frist’s participation in an event describing the filibuster “as against people of faith,” his spokesman, Bob Stevenson, did not answer the question directly. “Senator Frist is doing everything he can to ensure judicial nominees are treated fairly and that every senator has the opportunity to give the president their advice and consent through an up or down vote,” Mr. Stevenson said, adding, “He has spoken to groups all across the nation to press that point, and as long as a minority of Democrats continue to block a vote, he will continue to do so.”
I support Frist’s efforts to get judicial nominees an up-or-down vote and even support invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to get it done. However, this particular move is not only unseemly but likely to backfire. Frist’s appeal is that he appears above politics. This sort of slimy tactic will not serve him in the long term, especially as he seeks the White House in 2008.
Clearly, the GOP leadership thinks they’re in trouble on this one. According to a report in The Hill,
Senate Republican leaders were due to meet [Wednesday] night amid rising concern that they are being beaten on the Ã¢€œnuclear optionÃ¢€ by Sen. Harry ReidÃ¢€™s (D-Nev.) public-relations war room. The GOPÃ¢€™s talks follow a meeting last week in which aides warned Bob Stevenson, Senate Majority Leader Bill FristÃ¢€™s (R-Tenn.) communications director, that something needs to be done to win back lost ground, a participant said. Ã¢€œI think thereÃ¢€™s a realization that this particular [Democratic] effort has to be countered and theyÃ¢€™re in full-scale attack mode,Ã¢€ a GOP aide said, adding, Ã¢€œI think that people know that weÃ¢€™ve got a serious problem here. Ã¢€œThereÃ¢€™s been a lot of talk. Advice has been solicited from me and others. IÃ¢€™ve been told that a plan will be submitted tonight. It will be tweaked.Ã¢€
Another GOP aide said: Ã¢€œThereÃ¢€™s a general sense in the rank and file that we are a little in the hole and that Democrats have been more aggressive on messaging, that weÃ¢€™ve kind of gone dark. Democrats have gotten a head start and defined the issue ahead of us.Ã¢€
The turnaround has flummoxed Senate Republicans and conservatives. They say it is incredible that Democrats who have Ã¢€œundone 200-plus years of precedentÃ¢€ by filibustering nominees have managed to portray Republicans as Ã¢€œoverreaching.Ã¢€ Republicans say eliminating the filibuster of nominees would merely restore Senate tradition. Ã¢€œThey turned it around,Ã¢€ the aide said, and Ã¢€œone can suggest that itÃ¢€™s because of our lack of organized countermessaging.Ã¢€
This is clearly an issue the Republicans should be able to win on the merits. The idea that the president’s nominees should not be able to get a vote in a Republican majority Senate is simply bizarre. But arguing that Democrats are defying Jesus with their obstructionism is unlikely to turn this one around.
Update (1058): Steven Taylor adds,
I must confess to being somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that this is a division of the religious v. the irreligious, as that is false dichotomy. For one thing, the battle over the judiciary is about far more than issues of faith (translation in this context: about the social conservative agenda) but is, at its core, about how the Constitution and the laws of the land are interpreted. Of course, I will grant that legal theory would make for a less sexy event than one predicated on a war against faith.
To over simplify, the degree to which faith is the issue, it is about the views of many of the faithful on abortion. Clearly, Senate Democrats have decided that if a nominee is Catholic or an evangelical, then that person is dangerous vis-Ãƒ -vis abortion rights, and therefore the nominee must be stopped. On balance, this appears to be the common thread that ties most of these nominees together.
He also has some thoughts on how well the ideas expressed by some who tout the Bible in their politics square with the teachings of a certain long-haired fellow from Nazareth.