Not many questions for Ronald Weich at his Senate nomination hearing Wednesday as Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs.
A long-time Senate staffer who most recently worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Weich received mostly praise from the four Democrats who showed up for the hearing.
The only Republican present was the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). In what’s becoming a pattern for the abortion-rights supporter, Specter used the nomination hearing to twirl to the right on abortion. The 79-year-old Senate veteran faces an increasingly conservative pool of GOP Pennsylvania primary voters in a tough re-election race next year.
Specter inveighed against the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which gave fetuses protected status as legal victims for certain federal crimes, but didn’t have any actual questions for Weich. Weich had testified against the legislation, originally introduced in 1999, as a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.
Abortion rights supporters had opposed the bill, seeing it as an incremental move toward bestowing rights on fetuses with the aim of eventually criminalizing abortion.
The hearing was moved at the last minute to a cramped room in the Capitol from the Dirksen building to accommodate senators’ voting schedule.
Weich was really just a sideshow. The main act was David Hamilton, a liberal judge nominated to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Republicans boycotted the meeting, according to the Associated Press, saying they hadn’t had enough time to prepare for the hearing.
Specter said that during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, senators were generally given more than 100 days to get ready for nomination hearings. “There has been grossly insufficient time to prepare,” he said.
Most of the four Democrats present lamented that the seven other Republican committee members were not present. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in his opening statement that the Republicans have delayed several judicial nominations since President Obama took office including those appointments for attorney general, solicitor general and most recently, the nominee for Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen.
“It’s just regrettable,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said adding, “I think they are off to a bad start.”
CQ reported that the nomination of Weich might be part of an ongoing effort by the White House to appoint as many Capitol Hill staffers as it can to “make if awfully hard for Democratic leaders to challenge his politics on a range of issue, from economics to anti-terrorism.”
Weich, who if confirmed would be the point person for pushing the DOJ’s legislative agenda on Capitol Hill, said he would work to bridge the gap between the Justice Department and the branches of government.
“I think those leaders of the three branches need to speak to each other constructively… and I think I could facilitate that,” Weich said.
His nomination is expected to go before the Judiciary Committee for a vote after the two-week Easter break.