Weeks after threatening to prevent the Senate from voting on the nomination of Henry Foster for surgeon general, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole relented Monday, saying a “very frank” morning meeting with the Tennessee doctor convinced him he deserves the courtesy of a vote.
But Foster, who has waited more than four months to get an official rendering on his fitness for office by the Senate, faces still another formidable political hurdle before the chamber gets a chance to have its say. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who vehemently opposes Foster in part because he has performed abortions, is still vowing a filibuster, and it is not clear whether the doctor’s supporters can muster the 60 votes needed to end that effort.
If they can, Foster is widely believed to have the simple majority he needs to be confirmed by the Senate. His spirited performance at his hearings last month did much to boost his credentials and stature, and he subsequently was approved by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee by a 9-7 vote, with the backing of two Republicans.
But the prospects for ending a filibuster are shaky: Foster still is a symbol in a most contentious national debate over abortion, and presidential politics have complicated this controversy. Some Republicans who actually like Foster and might be prepared to vote for him, for instance, might not vote to end a filibuster out of respect for Gramm. Others are waiting for signals from Dole. The Kansas Republican and Gramm are rivals for their party’s nomination.
The 30-minute meeting Monday was said by one White House official who was there to be straightforward.
The official said Dole merely reviewed many of the issues that had been raised at Foster’s hearings, including his record on abortion, and said there were no really tense moments.