Dems fight over possible Alito filibuster

Long-smoldering Democratic dissension flared openly Friday as
liberals sought support for a last-minute filibuster of Supreme Court
nominee Samuel Alito against the advice of leaders worried about a
backlash in the 2006 elections.

“I reject those notions that
there ought to somehow be some political calculus about the future. …
The choice is now,” said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the party’s
2004 presidential candidate and a White House hopeful for 2008. He said
it was imperative to fight for “those people who count on us to stand
up and protect them.”

Two of the party’s Senate leaders, Harry
Reid of Nevada and Charles Schumer of New York, privately made clear
their unhappiness with the strategy, even though they, too, oppose
Alito’s confirmation. And Rep. Harold Ford, seeking a Senate seat in
Republican-leaning Tennessee, dismissed the filibuster approach openly.

does not appear that there is any reason to hold up a vote. I hope my
colleagues in the Senate will move quickly to bring this process to a
dignified end,” he said.

Despite a decision by Kerry,
Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and others to try to block a final
vote, leaders of both parties agreed that Alito’s confirmation was
assured for Tuesday. The 55-year-old appeals court judge would replace
Sandra Day O’Connor, who has cast deciding votes in recent years in 5-4
rulings on controversial issues such as abortion rights, affirmative
action and the death penalty.

Democrats fear he would shift the court rightward on those and other issues.

of moves by Kerry, Kennedy and others, supporters of Alito’s nomination
must produce 60 votes on Monday to advance his nomination _ and an
Associated Press tally shows at least 62.

That would clear the
way for a final vote on Tuesday. The AP tally shows at least 53
Republicans and three Democrats intend to vote to confirm Alito, well
over the required majority.

Reid announced he would side with
Alito’s critics on Monday, though on Thursday he had made clear his
unhappiness with their strategy. “There has been adequate time for
people to debate,” he had said Thursday. “I hope this matter will be
resolved without too much more talking.”

Those remarks drew a
pointed rebuttal from the NAACP and People for The American Way, two
organizations that often work closely with Democrats in Congress. “With
just two days of debate having passed, this must rank among the
shortest debates for a controversial Supreme Court nomination in modern
times,” they said in a written statement.

Democrats have been
arguing for several days whether to attempt a filibuster designed to
keep Alito off the bench, according to officials familiar with the

These officials said both Reid and Schumer of New
York, who heads the party’s effort to gain Senate seats in 2006, have
stressed the drawbacks. Among them were the certainty of defeat, the
impression of political weakness that would convey and the potential
impact on candidates on the ballot in 2006 in Republican-leaning
states. Both men oppose Alito’s confirmation.

Israel Klein,
Schumer’s spokesman, said late in the day Friday that the New York
senator “has privately expressed some concerns about how to move
forward procedurally, but he strongly opposes Judge Alito’s nomination
and would support any attempts to keep him off the Supreme Court.”

Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, sided with
Kennedy, Kerry and others, contending Alito’s record was troubling
enough to warrant a filibuster, and that in political terms, core
Democratic voters would be energized by a last-ditch stand.

the rank and file, there was opposition to a filibuster from several
lawmakers, including liberal Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and North
Dakota’s Kent Conrad, a moderate who is on the ballot this fall in a
Republican state.

Democratic officials said Mikulski had said
during this week’s closed-door caucus that the 2006 and 2008 elections
were more important than a symbolic last stand that would fail to
prevent Alito’s confirmation. Her spokesman declined comment.

The officials who described the comments did so on condition of anonymity, citing the private nature of the discussions.

an interview, Conrad said that in remarks to fellow Democrats at the
caucus, he outlined several factors. These included Alito’s strong
backing from the American Bar Association, his uncontested confirmation
15 years ago to the appeals court, public opinion polls and the fact
that Republicans had voted overwhelmingly to confirm Justices Ruth
Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer when President Clinton nominated them.

“So I put that all together and I find it makes it hard to justify a filibuster,” Conrad said.

the most part, Republicans were content to stand aside while Democrats
aired their internal differences. But White House spokesman Scott
McClellan couldn’t resist a jab at Kerry, Bush’s vanquished campaign
rival from 2004.

“I think even for a senator, it takes some
pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski
resort in the Swiss Alps,” he said.

Kerry announced his support
for a last stand against Alito from Switzerland, where he was attending
the World Economic Forum. He flew home overnight to speak on the Senate