Friday, January 27, 2006

Didn't He Lose An Election?

John Kerry is calling for a filibuster (courtesy Drudge) of Judge Alito. And while the talk of a filibuster should not surprise many, as the extremists in the Senate are guaranteed to threaten it, Kerry's injection of himself into this issue tells us a whole lot more about what he is thinking for the future, but it also shows that he is not playing his cards very carefully.

If anyone thinks that this is not related to a 2008 presidential run, they are hopelessly confused. Kerry is nearly a sure thing for re-election to his seat from the same state that reflexively elects the now comically irrelevant Ted Kennedy.

But he needs to listen to the words of Dick Durbin (D-IL) who is his party's whip, and second in command in the Senate. Durbin is a partisan's partisan who is willing to do just about anything for the sake of political gain. But when he publicly claims that his count on a filibuster is short, that is a very loud signal to all other members of his party not to bother blocking the vote.

There is only one way that Kerry's misbegotten gambit could be successful--if he can keep 41 members of his 44 member caucus on board. But here's the rub: all 55 Republicans will vote to confirm, and certainly vote to break any filibuster. Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), Tim Johnson (D-SD) and surprisingly Robert Byrd (D-WV) are also on board, likely because they come from red states with elections looming this year (except for Johnson). Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has indicated that she will oppose any filibuster. That leaves one more Democrat to switch sides. And they probably won't have too much trouble finding one. So Kerry is engaging in a fairly stupid gamble.

Because the Republicans hold the ultimate trigger--they can kill the filibuster power. The more wise of the Dems know that Alito is not the right fight. The real bloodbath will be the retirement or death of John Paul Stevens or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and they will need something to throw at the Republicans. To blow it all on Alito, who will get a number of crossovers on the full floor vote (maybe 4-6 votes) would be a display of profound political weakness. If the filibuster is broken on a vote, Kerry and the Dems look stupid for picking the wrong fight and for being unprincipled partisans. But worst yet would be if Kerry manages to maintain a filibuster. The nuclear option is triggered, and the Dems walk away emasculated for no good reason. Either way, it's a loser.

But the timing of this is interesting. The vote is set for Monday. The State of the Union Address is set for Tuesday. Bush wants to have the Supreme Court seated before him in the House Chamber, with a Justice Alito among them. It would be quite an excellent PR moment.

But John Kerry, eager to remain relevant against his former opponent, is willing to do anything to get elected. This time, he only threatens to harm himself.

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