WASHINGTON -- Both political parties are to blame for the impasse on confirming President Bush's judicial nominees, says Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
''No one wants to back down, and no one wants to lose face," the Republican said yesterday in his first interview with Washington reporters since disclosing he has Hodgkin's disease.
Specter will initiate this year's confirmation battles between Bush and the Democrats by holding hearings on the nominations of William G. Myers, who was blocked last year, on Tuesday, and US District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, who has been waiting for his confirmation hearing since the beginning of Bush's presidency, on Thursday.
While he expects those nominees to undergo severe questioning from Democrats, Specter is certain the Republicans' 10-to-8 advantage on the Judiciary Committee can win approval there, sending the nominations to the full Senate.
Specter said he has counted 58 votes for Myers, a former Interior Department solicitor. If that is the case, he would be two away from a filibuster-proof margin. Democrats have contended that appeals courts need balance, and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, is considered the most liberal appeals court, Specter said.
Republicans and Democrats have been fighting over judicial nominees for years. Democrats blocked Myers and nine other appeals court nominees through filibuster threats during the first Bush term, while the Senate confirmed 204 of the president's other nominees.
With a Senate composed of 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and a Democrat-leaning Independent, Democrats have the 40 votes necessary to uphold a filibuster, and they have threatened to do so with nominees they don't like.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, accuses Bush of a ''my way-or-the-highway" posture on judicial nominations. That is the real obstruction, Schumer says.
Specter said Democrats started the impasse by blocking nominees of President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush, then Republicans retaliated by blocking President Clinton's, and now Democrats are taking their turn.
Specter would not commit to vote for a Republican plan to change Senate rules to ensure judicial nominees can't be blocked. That is called the ''nuclear" option, because Democrats say it would blow up relations in the Senate.
Specter said he could see the use of a filibuster ''in an extraordinary case, extraordinary matter. But not when it is an everyday practice. I think it is unprecedented, but there have been a lot of unprecedented actions taken on both sides here."
Specter also said his committee has begun work on researching the process of confirming a Supreme Court nominee, in case a position opens.
He said his illness, a cancer of the lymph system, and chemotherapy treatment would not affect his legislative work.