Senate Republicans yesterday reelected their top leadership, chose Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) to head their campaign committee and gave Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) another boost in his bid to take over the Judiciary Committee.
Reelected without opposition were Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) and all other party leaders who ran for reelection.
In the only leadership contest, a battle between two freshmen, Dole narrowly defeated Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) for chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which recruits candidates and raises money for GOP senatorial candidates. She succeeds Sen. George Allen (Va.), who stepped down after a campaign in which the GOP majority expanded by four seats, to 55.
Dole, former president of the American Red Cross and wife of former Senate Republican leader Robert J. Dole (Kan.), defeated Coleman by a vote of 28 to 27.
Continuing his nonstop efforts to convince GOP senators that he will not let his support of abortion rights sway his handling of judicial nominations, Specter went before the full Senate GOP conference yesterday and was "received very well," Frist said.
After Specter met Tuesday with GOP leaders and committee colleagues, several key senators, including the outgoing Judiciary chairman, Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), said they believe that Specter will win the chairmanship despite an all-out campaign by conservative advocacy groups to deny him the post.
Specter angered conservative groups and triggered concern among conservative senators after a Nov. 3 news conference in which he said the Senate is unlikely to confirm a Supreme Court nominee who would overturn abortion rights.
Specter picked up more support yesterday, including backing from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.).
In yet another effort to win over colleagues, Specter said he will issue a statement addressing senators' principal concerns, perhaps today.
Although Specter appears likely to win the chairmanship, the choice will not be made officially until committee Republicans and the full Senate GOP conference vote on the issue in January.
Meeting with reporters after the leadership elections, Frist promised to stress "civility," and McConnell said the Republican Senate bloc "is not suffering from hubris."
But no sooner had the two leaders issued these promises than Dole accused outgoing Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), who was defeated in a bid for reelection earlier this month, of obstructionism.
"Led by Minority Leader Daschle, these recent years a number of important issues for America have been stymied -- certainly a comprehensive energy policy, asbestos litigation reform, medical liability reform, class-action reform, welfare reform, the nominations, confirmations of many important judicial positions," Dole said.
Asked whether her remarks were in keeping with the spirit of civility, she said: "I'm just stating the facts of where we've been in terms of a number of important issues that have been stalled."
Daschle's spokesman, Todd Webster, called the comments "shameful and classless" and said they mischaracterized Daschle's position on energy legislation, which he strongly supported. For much of the past year, the legislation was blocked by internal Republican disagreements over liability protections for makers of a widely used fuel additive.