8 a.m. ET: Nineteen members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spoke on the first day of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, but as the sessions progress, one will matter more than the others -- the first panel Republican to cross the aisle and announce his support for the nominee.
Sotomayor's widely-assumed glide path to confirmation has drained much of the drama from this week's proceedings, and so what little suspense is left resides in a question that has been asked of every other major initiative President Obama has advanced: Is it bipartisan? So far, the only panel Republican to suggest that he might back Sotomayor is Lindsey Graham, who said last week, "I honestly think I could vote for her." At yesterday's hearing, Graham further hinted that he could support Sotomayor, saying: "My inclination is that elections matter … President Obama won the election, and I will respect that."
For Sotomayor's supporters, securing at least one GOP vote in the committee is an important symbolic goal (Republican votes are easier to attract in the full Senate, which includes more GOP moderates than the Judiciary roster does). And unlike on policy issues like health care and climate change, the pursuit of bipartisanship in this arena carries no downside. When legislation is being crafted, attracting votes from the minority side means compromise. As Jonathan Cohn wrote last week, "Bipartisanship is good but a sound health reform bill is better. If winning over just one or even a handful of Republicans means gutting the bill, it's not worth it." During the stimulus battle in February, liberals were irritated that the package was scaled back to attract the votes of a handful of Republican centrists. No such tradeoff is necessary with Sotomayor -- in a sense, the bill has already been written. No one will make her promise to rule a certain way in exchange for a few GOP "ayes," nor will there be any earmarks or policy riders attached to her nomination. If Graham decides to back her, Democrats will cheer, but they don't need to compromise in order to make that happen.
Six of seven GOP members of Judiciary seem inclined to vote against Sotomayor, and they spent Monday trying to paint a specific picture of the nominee. The Los Angeles Times writes, "The question ... will not be whether she will win confirmation, but whether Senate Republicans can fix her in the public's mind as a biased judge unlikely to follow the law." In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick laments Republicans' effort to "paint the Supreme Court nominee as outsized, forever spilling out of her confines. ... They make her froth, teem, and bubble over with excess gender and race identification, such that prejudice and bias will inevitably follow." Democrats, for their part, focused on Sotomayor's lengthy resume and, as Politico notes, Democrats "made clear that any GOP accusations of judicial activism would be met by insistent claims that recent Republican nominees, like Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, have strayed from their promises to exhibit judicial restraint."
As the Sotomayor hearings continue today in Hart 216 -- get your live video and real-time analysis here -- lawmakers elsewhere on the Capitol campus will continue their efforts to scrape together a health-care reform package. The Wall Street Journal writes, "The effort to pass a health-care overhaul is being frustrated by divisions among Democrats over a wide range of issues, from how to pay for the measure to its impacts on small business and rural areas." Obama tried Monday to advance the ball personally, meeting with Democratic lawmakers to remind them how important this issue is to his entire first-term agenda. A House reform bill will likely be unveiled today, and a coalition of pro-reform groups is spending $7 million on ads aimed at maintaining momentum behind their cause and keeping conservative Blue Dog Democrats on board.
At Foggy Bottom, there is a new round of analysis of the administration role so far of Hillary Clinton, who entered the Cabinet as a superstar but has mostly maintained a low profile. Clinton got some notice yesterday for complaining during a public forum that "the clearance and vetting process" for filling administration jobs "is a nightmare." Ben Smith reports in Politico that Clinton "is ready to articulate her own policy agenda," beginning with a speech tomorrow to the Council on Foreign Relations. That assertiveness will be welcomed by Tina Brown, who calls the Secretary of State "Obama's other wife" in The Daily Beast and says, "It’s time for Barack Obama to let Hillary Clinton take off her burqa."
July 14, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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