So maybe there was something to Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist‘s velvet hammer treatment of expected Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. The leader was calm and cool and terribly trusting in allowing Specter to win the chairmanship. After pulling together committee assignments it’s easy to see why Frist was so willing to hand over the reins to the liberal from Pennsylvania.
Circulating around Capitol Hill the last couple of days are the draft committee assignments for the GOP. Those slots, based on seniority and requests by the Senators, don’t become official until after January 5th, when the Republican Caucus elects chairmen to the committees.
If Frist has his way, Sen. Sam Brownback and Dr. Tom Coburn will be making Chairman Specter’s life miserable for the foreseeable future, a not wholly unappealing prospect for conservatives.
Brownback’s placement on Judiciary presents him with an opportunity to further burnish his social conservative bona fides, as he ramps up what is expected to be a toe-dipping into presidential politics in 2008. The conservative, Roman Catholic convert from Kansas joins one of the most conservative committees around, with Cornyn, Kyl, Sessions, Coburn, and Graham sitting with him.
Sam Brownback‘s rise comes at a time when Roman Catholics are looking for a greater voice within the Republican power structure. For sometime now, Pennsylvania’s Sen. Rick Santorum was their standardbearer, but recent political missteps — an embarrassing stemwinder of a speech at the 2004 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on the heels of his even more embarrassing support of pro-choice Specter in the Pennsylvania primary, and his very public support of Specter for the chairmanship of Judiciary as Santorum’s base was working against his senior senator — have left the junior senator vulnerable.
“Rick’s probably been a bit too clever, and maybe a little too comfortable,” says a Senate committee staffer, who does not work for Santorum. “He’s been the Catholic go-to guy for a couple of years now, and maybe taken them for granted. Brownback has very quietly built up a strong, compassionate-conservative portfolio of issues that appeals to the same base that President Bush has appealed to. He’s someone Santorum will have to deal with.”
Santorum’s bumps in the road couldn’t be coming at more critical time. He faces what is expected to be a bruising re-election battle from Democrats.
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