The Senate's top Democratic and Republican leaders reaffirmed their support Sunday for Judge Stephen Breyer's Supreme Court candidacy, but a few in the rank and file began to voice concern about his failure to pay Social Security taxes for a retired part-time domestic worker.
Overall, the reactions suggested that President Clinton probably could push Breyer's nomination through the Senate, although he might encounter some of the controversy he had hoped to avoid with his first Supreme Court nomination.
White House officials said they planned to talk to more members of the Senate, who must confirm any nomination. A Clinton aide said announcement of a Supreme Court nominee, considered imminent Friday, is expected "sometime this week."
Another White House official said the president is considering at least one other candidate, U.S. Circuit Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg of Washington. Clinton discussed Ginsburg, Breyer and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt twice in recent days with Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz.
Clinton indicated Sunday the process is on track. "Nothing has changed, and I'll have an announcement later," he said.
Breyer, chief judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, met Friday with the president in what seemed to be a final step toward his selection and was asked to remain in Washington over the weekend to write acceptance remarks. But a snag developed Saturday with public disclosure that the taxes were not withheld.
Breyer was said to have realized in February, amid the outcry over failed attorney general nominee Zoe Baird, that he had not withheld taxes for the 81-year-old woman who has worked for his family one or two mornings a week since 1980. He since has paid about $3,000 in taxes and penalties to fulfill his obligation.
Baird's nomination was abandoned after it was disclosed she had employed immigrants as domestic workers and had failed to withhold taxes. Clinton's second choice, Judge Kimba Wood, withdrew her name from consideration for similar reasons.
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, and Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., minimized the importance of Breyer's offense.
"I don't think it's disqualifying," Dole said on CNN's Newsmaker Sunday. "I agree with the White House."
Mitchell said on ABC's This Week with David Brinkley he didn't think the Breyer tax question "by itself is disqualifying."
And Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which gets first crack at court nominations, said it was unclear under IRS regulations whether the worker was an "independent contractor" for whom withholding was not necessary. "As one who supported Zoe Baird, I do not think this is disqualifying," he said.