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‘Pained and Perplexed’ Senators Decide How to Vote

October 15, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Supporters of Clarence Thomas worked Monday to preserve Senate support for his Supreme Court nomination as senators ″pained and perplexed″ by sexual harassment allegations decided how to vote.

Senior administration officials expressed confidence that Thomas would get enough votes to win nomination, and a key Southern Democrat, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, reaffirmed support, saying law professor Anita Hill’s allegations had not changed his mind.

″I believe Judge Thomas is qualified. I said so two weeks ago. I know nothing that has transpired in the meantime to take away from that,″ said Johnston, who led a group of Southern Democrats to oppose Robert Bork’s failed Supreme Court nomination in 1987.

But others were wrestling with the issue as another former aide to Thomas, Sukari Hardnett, told the Associated Press that black women in his office at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission felt they were objects of his sexual interest and physical inspection.

″I am generally undecided,″ said Sen. J. James Exon, D-Neb., who had been a Thomas supporters before Hill’s allegations surfaced.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said in a news conference Monday that the three days of testimony left him undecided going into Tuesday’s vote.

″I was so disturbed over the events this weekend that I’m literally, entirely in the undecided category,″ Dodd, who had previously been leaning toward Thomas, said at a news conference in Hartford, Conn.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who had originally been a Thomas supporter, said the hearings left him undecided.

″I’m as pained and perplexed as the rest of America,″ Lieberman said on NBC. ″It’s quite possible ... that we’re not able to decide that anybody is lying,″ he said. Thomas would have 52 votes, barely a majority, if 41 Republicans and 11 other Democrats stick with pledges of support made before Ms. Hill’s allegations surfaced.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., another Thomas supporter, predicted the Senate would approve the nomination in a vote that both sides expected to be close.

Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., said Monday in remarks to the Atlanta Rotary Club that he would ″review all the evidence tomorrow before making my final decision, but at this stage I continue to support Judge Thomas.″ He said men must become more sensitive to the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The vote was scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday after eight hours of time for debate.

″This is a cliffhanger if there ever was one,″ said Nan Aron, executive director of the anti-Thomas Alliance For Justice.

″I believe Clarence Thomas. The American people believe Clarence Thomas. I have no idea where the votes are,″ said Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., the nominee’s mentor and champion on Capitol Hill.

President Bush, who returned early from a three-day weekend at Camp David to direct the lobbying effort, said support for Thomas was still ″holding strong″ despite the explosive allegations of Hill.

″I am very pleased with the way support all across the country is holding strong for Judge Thomas,″ Bush said, referring to a flurry of last-minute public opinion polls showing Americans believed Thomas’ firm, flat denial by roughly a 2-1 margin.

Hill returned to her home in Norman, Okla., where she reiterated her charge and chastised Republicans for attacking her character.

″I am not imagining the conduct to which I testified,″ she said. ″The personal attacks on me without an iota of evidence were particularly offensive,″ she told a news conference. ″I had nothing to gain by subjecting myself to the process. In fact, I had more to gain by remaining silent.″

Meanwhile, Hardnett, another former assistant to Thomas at the EEOC told Senate investigators that some black women who worked in his office felt they were ″an object of sexual interest″ and physical inspection by him.

Hardnett, who worked for Thomas from 1985 to 1986, did not allege sexual harassment but said, ″If you were young, black, female and reasonably attractive, you knew full well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female.″

Hardnett, who was interviewed by Republican and Democratic committee staff members after writing to the panel, was available to testify but was not called, largely because the panel was running out of time, said a Democratic committee aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The panel also did not hear in person from another former employee with stronger allegations against Thomas, Angela Wright. Her private interview with the committee was released as part of the official record.

The White House strategy was keyed at holding Southern senators with large black constituencies who accounted for seven of the 13 Democrats who had announced their support for Thomas last month.

In remarks clearly aimed at these Southerners, Bush said:

″It’s important to note that among Afro-Americans, black Americans, that the support is very, very strong. That is significant and I think highly important.″

Senate Republicans and the White House were pursuing a strategy of convincing senators that Hill’s testimony produced insufficient evidence and that Thomas deserved the benefit of any doubts.

After her lawyers said she Sunday that she had passed a polygraph test, Republicans raised the possibility that she was deluded mentally.

On Monday, Republicans tried to impugn her testimony. Danforth’s office released an affidavit from a Washington lawyer who said he had given her a poor evaluation when she worked in private practice.

The attorney, John L. Burke Jr., said he suggested ″it would be in her best interest to consider seeking employment elsewhere″ because her prospects at the firm were limited.

In testimony, Hill told the panel that she left private practice for government work because ″I was interested in seeking other employment.

″It was never suggested to me at the firm that I should leave the law firm in any way,″ she said in sworn testimony.

White House vote counters were combing the list of 13 Democratic supporters, looking for weak spots.

Before the Senate postponed last week’s vote, Thomas appeared assured of 54 votes, including 41 Republicans. Two Republicans, Bob Packwood of Oregon and James Jeffords of Vermont, announced last week they would oppose the nomination.

The conflicting testimony of Thomas and Hill in three days of extraordinary hearings did not appear to have changed the minds of senators on the Judiciary Committee, which last month stood neutral on his nomination by a 7-7 vote.

DeConcini, the lone Democrat who voted for Thomas in committee, said Ms. Hill’s ″very dramatic, very shocking″ allegations″ were inconclusive.

″There is not sufficient evidence here,″ he said.

Vice President Dan Quayle was expected to return early Tuesday from a GOP fundraising trip to Ohio to participate in the last-minute lobbying of his former Senate colleagues and to be on hand in case his tie-breaking vote was needed.

A senior administration official, who requested anonymity, said that ″among the senators that are pledged, most of them are firm, but there are some that have to be checked with and you have to work on the undecideds.″

A Senate Democratic aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, identified four Democrats who were most likely to withdraw their support for Thomas: Exon, Wyche Fowler of Georgia, Alan J. Dixon of Illinois, and Lieberman.

Fowler was at his Atlanta home reviewing tapes and records of the weekend’s hearings, press secretary Nehl Horton said.

″He’s continuing to support Judge Thomas, pending his review of the record of the Judiciary Committee’s meetings,″ said Horton.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who had also supported Thomas in the past said he was reviewing the weekend testimony. ″I haven’t changed yet and I might not change.″

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