The agreement alters the schedule announced Friday, during the final moments of Alito’s week-long confirmation hearings, by Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who said he would conduct the panel’s vote today. His announcement sparked a quarrel with the panel’s ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), who said he would seek a delay. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) vowed that a vote in the full Senate, which has final say over all judicial candidates chosen by the president, would take place by the end of the week.
In the end, Specter and Frist essentially acknowledged the prerogative Democrats have under Senate rules to postpone any committee decision for one week. GOP leaders grumbled that Democrats had reneged on an earlier agreement about when the Alito vote would take place — an agreement that Democrats denied ever existed.
As Republicans express confidence that they have mustered enough votes to confirm Alito, the timing of the committee’s action and of the full Senate vote may not dictate whether he joins the court. But the timing plays into the short-term political calculus of both parties, as well as of a coalition of left-leaning advocacy groups that are continuing to air advertisements in an aggressive — and, so far, relatively ineffective — campaign to build broad public opposition to the nominee, who is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.