Whatever doubts the Bush administration had about its nomination of a top aide to Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) to a new veterans court dissipated Friday as a cross section of veterans leaders, politicians and administration leaders queued up to endorse Jonathan R. Steinberg for a judgeship.
By the end of the four-hour hearing, Steinberg appeared headed for certain confirmation for a 15-year term as the seventh and final member of the new Court of Veterans Appeals. Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), the only member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to voice any concern over the nomination, announced he would not oppose Steinberg.
A sometimes abrasive critic of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Steinberg was praised at the hearing by the department's two top officials and a host of others as one of the most knowledgeable and qualified candidates for the new court. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Edward J. Derwinski saluted the nominee, saying most of the laws the new court will have to interpret were products of "the mind, pen and energy of Jon Steinberg."
None of the nominations to the new court, which will hear appeals of individuals denied VA benefits, had proved as controversial as that of Steinberg, 51, majority chief counsel of the Senate committee and a longtime aide to Cranston. Last month, a senior administration official said the White House was on the verge of withdrawing the nomination, which brought cries of astonishment from committee chairman Cranston and many of Steinberg's supporters.
Some officials within the VA also were surprised. They had championed the nomination, seeing it as part of a carefully orchestrated plan to remove one of their department's most nettlesome critics from Capitol Hill and improve the department's relations with the Senate in the process.
Murkowski was Steinberg's only critic at the hearings, raising questions about his lack of military service and whether he was a Vietnam War protester. Steinberg easily turned those questions aside and the senator conceded that his "hardball questions" were based in part on rumor. In the end, Murkowski said he had found "no evidence" that Steinberg was unsuited for the court.
Members of the Senate panel are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the nomination of Steinberg and three others chosen for the court.