Jewish World Review July 15, 2002 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5762
John H. Fund
The McCain Mutiny-II
President Bush is making the Democratic
Senate's refusal to vote on many of his
judicial nominees a major campaign issue
this fall. Eminently qualified nominees such
as Miguel Estrada and Mike McConnell were
nominated 14 months ago and have yet to
receive even a hearing. But a fellow
Republican is undermining Mr. Bush's effort
to showcase vacancies that the Judicial
Conference of the United States calls
"judicial emergencies." Sen. John McCain of
Arizona is blocking action on even those
few nominees the Democrats are willing to
Mr. McCain has placed a "personal
privilege" hold on all Bush
nominees--executive as well as judicial. He
says he'll lift his hold only if Mr. Bush
appoints Ellen Weintraub, an election
lawyer, to a Democratic vacancy on the
bipartisan Federal Election Commission. Mr.
McCain is furious at the FEC for a series of
4-2 votes that he feels improperly interpret
the McCain-Feingold law by giving
candidates more "flexibility." Democrat Karl
Sandstrom, whose term has expired, sided
with the three Republican appointees
against two Democratic commissioners.
Ever since those votes Mr. McCain has
joined Democrats in mau-mauing the
commission, going so far as to threaten to
introduce legislation abolishing it.
On June 24 Mr. McCain escalated the
dispute by writing Senate leaders to warn
he would hold up all Bush nominations until
he had a written guarantee that President
Bush would appoint Ms. Weintraub. The
McCain letter hit the Senate like a
bombshell because Democrats and Republicans were on the verge of concluding an
agreement under which 16 judicial nominations would finally be voted on. Now the Senate
is in "total gridlock," says Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "There won't be any
nominations or confirmations any time soon," he predicted late last month.
Ms. Weintraub, a former Democratic staffer for the House Ethics Committee, has the
fervent backing of congressional liberals. Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, perhaps the
Senate's most liberal member, says "she will be a powerful, and needed, pro-reform force
on the FEC." She is now a respected lawyer at the Washington firm of Perkins Coie,
headed by Democratic superlawyer Bob Bauer. Mr. Bauer is a party animal. He helped
craft the meritless racketeering complaint that the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee filed against House Majority Whip Tom DeLay's fund-raising operation. All this
makes Ms. Weintraub a curious candidate for a Republican like Mr. McCain to champion so
There may be a little campaign-finance nepotism at work here. Peter Roff of United Press
International reports that Ms. Weintraub is married to Bill Dauster, the legislative director
for Sen. Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat of McCain-Feingold fame. If Ms.
Weintraub joined the Federal Election Commission, she would be ruling on a major piece of
legislation that her husband worked on. Fair or not, there would be calls for her to recuse
herself on some votes just as there have been calls for Sen. Phil Gramm not to vote on
commodity regulation issues because his wife, Wendy, chaired the Commodity Futures
In any case, Sen. McCain's obstructionism doesn't make much practical sense. A White
House official notes that since Ms. Weintraub's name was floated for the FEC only seven
weeks ago, she is still in the "very early stages" of her background check. "There's no
way that will be done until well into August, and then there are other matters that have
to precede a formal appointment," he says. "Meanwhile does the entire confirmation
process go on hold?" Ms. Weintraub's allies respond that the White House may be stalling
her background check.
It's understandable that Sen. McCain is protective of his campaign finance legislation.
And it's hardly surprising that he'd try to exert his influence on the FEC. But Roll Call, the
newspaper of Capitol Hill, says it is flat-out wrong for him to be "punishing the judicial
branch of government for the sins of one FEC commissioner." For him to hijack the
presidential nominating process when several vacancies have been unfilled for over a
year, and at a time when the federal government needs all hands on deck to fight a war
on terrorism, carries traditional senatorial pique to new heights of self-aggrandizement.
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©2001, John H. Fund