Eric Holder's nomination as Attorney General gained a bit more steam on Tuesday, as two high-profiled Republicans offered measure of support that carries symbolic importance.
John Danforth, a former Republican Senator, and Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican Congressman, announced their backing of President-elect Barack Obama's A.G. choice on Tuesday. In doing so, they joined a list of other prominent legal officials and conservative figures who have offered their support. On Monday, Sen. Orin Hatch, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he intended to back Holder, all but assuring that the nomination would make it out of the committee.
"Eric Holder is no stranger to the Department of Justice. And it is important at this time that you have someone who appreciates the independent role of the Department of Justice," said Hutchinson. "I'm very honored that I can support Eric Holder and I'm pleased to do that."
These remarks from two former GOP luminaries make it all the more peculiar to see Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on Judiciary, continue to air such strong grievances about Holder's record. But on Tuesday morning, the Pennsylvania Republican did just that, telling MSNBC's Morning Joe:
Mr. Holder was involved in the Marc Rich pardon, which gives at least the appearance -- until answers are provided -- that he was doing the president's bidding without regard to what should have been done. There is a serious question about independent council on the matter involving Vice President Gore on the allegations of illegal campaign contributions from the White House. There's the issue of the FALN terrorists and all of those raise serious questions as to Mr. Holder's independence. And I intend to probe those very thoroughly.
Democrats in the Senate fully expect Holder to receive a wide-range of bipartisan support, both in the Judiciary Committee and when his nomination comes to the Senate floor -- though he seems likely to be put through the ringer during the confirmation proceedings. As such, they speculate that Specter's posturing is more politically motivated than anything else -- either a cue taken from Karl Rove or a way to flex his conservative bonafides in anticipation of a potential primary challenge in 2010.
And on a conference call on Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy was asked about just that.
"I think Sen. Specter has always portrayed himself as an independent person and it may be a coincidence that his positions are those of Karl Rove," said the Vermont Democrat. "And I suspect it is coincidence. Senator Specter is a good friend of mine but I totally disagree with him on this ... If he can strongly support Mr. Gonzales, who turned out to be a disaster as Attorney General and was eventually forced out by President Bush, I think he would be very happy to support Eric Holder."