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News Flash: Republicans Like Roberts

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) spoke for 12 minutes Wednesday, leaving Judge Roberts with eight minutes total to respond. Other senators used up even more of their 20 minutes.
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) spoke for 12 minutes Wednesday, leaving Judge Roberts with eight minutes total to respond. Other senators used up even more of their 20 minutes. (Jason Reed - Reuters)

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) knows that. He even found himself asking that the nominee not talk so much. "I promise I won't interrupt if you give short answers, okay?" Biden asked.

"I'll try, senator," Roberts said, tightly. The nominee's answers were short, no more than about two minutes each. But Biden interrupted anyway, and he was able to hold the floor for 12 of his 20 minutes, ceding eight to Roberts.

Roberts's refusal to answer most of their questions infuriated the Democrats, none more than Biden. The Democrat gave Roberts the full Al Gore: while Roberts spoke, Biden shook his head, put his face in his hand, pouted and glared disgustedly. "We are rolling the dice with you, judge," Biden said. "It's kind of interesting, this Kabuki dance we have in these hearings here, as if the public doesn't have a right to know what you think about fundamental issues facing them."

Brownback, who spoke 3,500 words and gave Roberts time for only 1,500, used his question time to deliver an anti-abortion speech. "I appreciate your thoughts on the subject very much," was all the nominee replied. "I do think, though, since those precise questions could come before the courts that that is in the area that I have to refrain from answering."

It didn't matter to Brownback. "God bless you in your service to the country," the senator said after his speech.

Coburn, likewise, used his time to deliver a pro-life speech. After this long message, Coburn asked, "Would you agree that the opposite of being dead is being alive?"

Roberts hesitated. "Yes," he answered cautiously. To laughter, he added, "I don't mean to be overly cautious in answering."

"You know I'm going somewhere," Coburn said, and indeed everybody in the room knew. After another discussion of his anti-abortion views, Coburn said he wasn't even intending to ask a question about it. "That was for your information."

Coburn mentioned for the second time during the proceedings that he is a medical doctor. And the senator announced that he had pioneered a new medical field. "I've tried to use my medical skills of observation of body language to ascertain your uncomfortableness and ill at ease with questions and responses," he said. "And I will tell you that I am very pleased, both in my observational capabilities as a physician to know that your answers have been honest and forthright as I watch the rest of your body respond to the stress that you're under."

Those who took the questioning more seriously found themselves thwarted. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the committee, pressing Roberts on a fine point of separation of powers, received the reply: "I can't give you a commitment here today about how I will approach an issue that is going to be on the docket within a matter of months," Roberts said.

"Judge Roberts," Specter replied. "I'm not talking about an issue. I'm talking about the essence of jurisprudence."

Talking to reporters during the break, Specter said the judge "wouldn't go quite as far as I liked," but he said the answers were good enough. The chairman said he saw no reason to extend questioning for another day. "I didn't see a lot of intensity in the questioning of Judge Roberts this morning," he said.

Now where would he get that idea? Maybe it was when Brownback, during his question time, digressed to discuss an elevator operator in the Capitol who has Downs Syndrome. "He frequently gives me a hug in the elevator," Brownback said. "I know he hugs Senator Hatch often, too, who kindly gives him ties -- some of which I question the taste of, Orrin."

Hatch interjected: "It doesn't have to get personal."

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