Split among Democrats after Roberts nomination as 17th U.S. chief justice

President George W. Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. as 17th U.S. chief justice split Democrats, who were left looking for a strategy to challenge his choice for the next Supreme Court vacancy.

The vote reflected a split among Democrats over how to influence President Bush's next nomination to the Supreme Court. Some argued it was best to endorse a candidate as qualified as Roberts; others worried that the White House would see affirmative votes as a sign of weakness, Los Angeles Times reports.

The split among the committee's eight Democrats reflected division among Senate Democrats as a whole. Several Democratic senators predicted that Roberts could get the support of most Democratic senators when the chamber deliberates next week.

The three Democrats who voted to recommend Roberts said they were giving him the benefit of the doubt - to "vote my hopes and not my fears," as Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin put it.

Republicans said that in many ways, the vote on Roberts was more about the coming nomination than the current nominee. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused Democrats of opposing Roberts to demonstrate strength before the next nomination.

All of the Democrats said their decision was difficult. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who voted not to recommend Roberts, said he and Feinstein made up their minds at 10 p.m. Wednesday in a phone conversation. In the end, Schumer told reporters after the vote, he felt the risks were too great.

After the committee's decision, several Senate Democrats announced their voting intent. Mark Pryor of Arkansas said he would support Roberts; Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said they would oppose him, Los Angeles Times reports.

Roberts is headed next week for an easy confirmation in the Senate with certain support from all 55 Republicans and perhaps half the 44 Democrats. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination 13-5 yesterday, with all 10 Republicans and three Democrats endorsing the 50-year-old appeals court judge, Bloomberg informs.

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