Clinton courts another disaster: Trouble brews over President's nominee for Supreme Court

THE Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, appears the narrow favourite to fill the Supreme Court vacancy for which President Bill Clinton is due to announce a nominee within the next few days. But the choice is by no means certain, and in the short term at least could raise as many problems as it solves.

According to White House officials yesterday, the short list for what will be the first Court appointment by a Democratic president in a quarter of a century has been narrowed to three: Mr Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona and briefly a Democratic presidential contender in 1988, and two widely esteemed and moderate Appeals Court judges, Stephen Breyer of Boston and Gilbert Merritt, chief judge of the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

In an ideal world, the much admired Mr Babbitt would be a supremely logical choice. His background, admittedly, is far more that of politician than jurist. But he is a pragmatist from the centre of his party, whose pro-abortion, pro-civil rights views would produce exactly the liberal shift in the Court's centre of gravity Mr Clinton is seeking. But times for this beleaguered President are anything but ideal.

As he struggles to regain his footing after a string of blunders culminating in last week's debacle over Lani Guinier, and searches for a compromise to save his all-important deficit-cutting plan in the Senate this month, the last thing Mr Clinton needs is a fight over a Supreme Court nomination. But clouds were gathering yesterday.

Among them was resurrection by the right-wing press of allegations over Las Vegas gambling debts and mob payoffs by Mr Babbitt, which he describes as 'nonsense'. Another was mutterings from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has to approve the nomination, that Mr Babbitt might try to impose his political views rather than the law. The confirmation of either Mr Breyer or Mr Merritt, by contrast, is held to be virtually automatic.

Most serious is the price Mr Clinton would pay in the electorally vital West and in the environmental community, both of which see Mr Babbitt as their champion in the cabinet. As one leading wildlife activist put it: 'He's basically irreplaceable at Interior.' If he does move, moreover, Mr Clinton would have the time-consuming task of finding another Interior Secretary. By some accounts, the process has already started.

In the meantime, the President's scramble back to the political centre continues. Yesterday, at a 'cordial' meeting with Republican and Democrat congressional leaders, he again signalled his willingness to amend the budget package by scaling down his energy tax and making deeper spending cuts.

Conciliation is also the order of the hour in the White House press room, among Mr Clinton's prime tormentors in his four troubled months in office. The affable Mark Gearan has replaced the heartily disliked George Stephanopoulos as communications director, and in a first symbolic move ordered reporters once more be allowed free access to the press office.

But nomination difficulties continue to dog the President. It now emerges that the Mayor of Boston, Ray Flynn, may turn down the job of US envoy to the Vatican he was offered three months ago. Mr Flynn is reportedly furious that orginal promises he would be a roving human rights ambassador have been withdrawn, and that the State Department vetoed a dollars 500,000 (pounds 330,000) fundraising event by his supporters.

Mr Flynn, who has six children and earns dollars 115,000 as mayor, says he does not have the means to pay for the entertaining that goes with the Vatican post out of his own pocket.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders