ABC Anchor Vargas Worries to Specter About How Alito May Overturn Roe v Wade

ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas approached Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter from the left in a taped interview played on Monday’s World News Tonight. She described the fairly liberal Pennsylvanian as “a moderate Republican” before empathizing with him over Alito’s apparent position that the Constitution does not provide a right to abortion: “How bothered are you by comments that he's made in 1985 in memos, saying that there is not a constitutional right? The Constitution does not protect the right to have an abortion?" Vargas pointed out to Specter how “you are one of a handful of pro-choice Republicans” and wondered: “But if you get the sense in these hearings that Judge Alito would overturn or weaken Roe versus Wade, would that make him unqualified if your opinion?" When Specter insisted that “there are no extraordinary circumstances to warrant filibustering Judge Alito,” a seemingly astounded Vargas blurted: "None?" Vargas also touted how Specter, a cancer survivor, “fights passionately for stem cell research." (Complete transcript follows.)

The January 9 piece from Vargas, who anchored from Washington, DC, followed the lead story by George Stephanopoulos, who recounted Alito’s first day of hearings. Vargas had sat down with Specter in an empty Senate hearing room.

Vargas introduced her session with Specter:
“The man leading the proceedings is Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, who’s been part of ten previous Supreme Court confirmation hearings. His vote is powerful. It is also unpredictable. As a moderate Republican, he has sided with Democrats in the past. And today, he told me, the best thing Sam Alito can do for his chances is to be candid.”

Vargas to Specter: “You have said you're going to begin your questions on the subject of abortion. How bothered are you by comments that he's made in 1985 in memos, saying that there is not a constitutional right? The Constitution does not protect the right to have an abortion?”

Specter: “I believe that Judge Alito should be questioned closely and I intend to do so, on his 1985 statement, that the Constitution does not provide a right to an abortion. And one question is, does he still have that view? Was it a personal view? Was it a view of the law? And whatever he had to say in 1985, what weight will he give to the precedence?”

Vargas: “You are one of a handful of pro-choice Republicans. But if you get the sense in these hearings that Judge Alito would overturn or weaken Roe versus Wade, would that make him unqualified if your opinion?”

Specter: “I would not decide my vote on a single issue. I voted to confirm Rehnquist as Chief Justice even though he voted against Roe. I do not believe in a litmus test. I believe in evaluating the individual on the totality of the circumstances.”

Specter at 1987 hearing: “Judge Bork, with all do respect, I think you're putting the rabbit in the hat.”

Vargas: “Senator Specter has played a pivotal role in past hearings of Supreme Court nominees. His grilling of Judge Robert Bork in 1987 was, in the eyes of many, what killed Bork’s nomination.”

Specter at hearing: “I object to that vociferously. I’m asking questions here.”

Vargas: “His sharp questioning of Anita Hill, during the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991, shook her credibility and helped Thomas get appointed to the bench. He has deep respect for the tradition and the history of these hearings.”

Vargas to Specter: “Democrats know that if they really do decide they want to oppose the appointment of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court bench, their best bet to do this is to filibuster.”

Specter: “There are no extraordinary circumstances to warrant filibustering Judge Alito.”

An astonished Vargas: “None?”

Specter: “None. None. If the Democrats decide to do so, they can make that judgment on their own. They don't have to agree with Arlen Specter. But they may have to pay a political price.”

Specter, in video without hair: “Look in the mirror every day, I can barely recognize myself. And not to have the availability of the best in medical care is simply atrocious.”

Specter: “Arlen Specter is a recent cancer survivor, who fights passionately for stem cell research.”

Vargas to Specter: “I want to the turn of the issue of your health. You look great. How do you feel?”

Specter: “Feel fine. Feel fine. I'm a little discouraged that after all the weighty issues I have been involved in, that I may be remembered most for having grown my hair back.”

Vargas: “You've been declared cancer-free?”

Specter: “I have been declared cancer-free.”

Vargas: “That must have been good news.”

Specter: “And how. And how. One of the biggest days of my life was the day I stopped chemotherapy treatments.”

Vargas: “How did you celebrate?”

Specter: “I had two martinis and a steak.”

Vargas: “Senator Specter will lead off the questioning tomorrow of Judge Samuel Alito.”

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center