WASHINGTON – Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Tuesday he will support the nomination of an Indiana University law professor to head the Obama administration’s internal law office.
He is the first Republican to publicly declare his backing for Dawn Johnsen, whose selection to head the Office of Legal Counsel has grown into a fight about abortion rights and counterterrorism practices.
Some Republicans have promised to try to block Johnsen’s confirmation either because of her support for abortion rights or because she criticized the legal justification used by the Bush administration for the torture of detainees.
Lugar’s support does not guarantee the Senate will confirm Johnsen. Sixty votes are needed to stave off a filibuster, and vote-counters say they are aware of close to 60 "yes" votes for Johnsen, but they are not declaring victory. One Democrat – Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson – has said he will vote against Johnsen.
Advocacy groups have turned Johnsen’s nomination into a high-profile tussle in Washington. On Tuesday morning, a group of 75 Hoosier law professors signed a letter asking Lugar to support Johnsen.
Lugar has said that, barring something extraordinary, a president should be able to choose top aides even if they support policies the opposition party opposes. He has also said Congress should not require as many posts be reviewed and voted on; about 500 positions require Senate confirmation.