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May 24, 2005
Did Bush Win In Judicial Deal?

That's what the New York Times says this morning, in an analysis by Richard Stevenson that tries to look at the compromise as part of the overall power struggle for Bush's legislative agenda. Stevenson argues that the compromise frees up the most contentious and desired nominees for confirmation and the legislative process for more pressing issues, such as CAFTA and Social Security:

President Bush won enough from the bipartisan compromise on judicial nominees on Monday night to claim a limited victory, but he now faces a series of additional tests of his political authority, with the stakes extending to the fate of his second-term agenda.

On the plus side for Mr. Bush, the bipartisan agreement among 14 centrist senators expressly called for up-or-down votes on three of his nominees to federal appeals court seats, all but ensuring their confirmations, though it left in limbo the fate of two more. ...

In the days and weeks that follow, Congress will confront a proposed trade agreement with Central America, the confirmation of Mr. Bush's embattled choice as to be ambassador to the United Nations, an effort to rein in government spending and the first legislative steps toward overhauling Social Security - all topics on which Mr. Bush faces excruciatingly close votes in Congress, where Democrats are generally united against him and his own party is splintering around the edges.

Although the deal on judges announced by the 14 senators fell well short of the principle set out by Mr. Bush that all nominees get a vote on the Senate floor, the White House said it viewed the development as positive. Mr. Bush has always tried to create an atmosphere within the White House that takes the day-to-day bumps in stride and focuses on winning in the long run.

That would put the NY Times in the same category as Stephen Bainbridge, if the rest of the analysis followed the headline. However, Stevenson expresses more pessimism than optimism about Bush's ability to push his agenda through Congress, even one celebrating its supposed comity on C-SPAN for the last twelve hours:

But Monday evening's partial victory was hardly a display of overwhelming political strength. Beyond the judicial nominations, administration officials and their outside advisers recognize that the convergence of so many high-stakes issues in such a short period will shape public perceptions of Mr. Bush's power at a time when his approval ratings are already lackluster and his signature domestic initiative, remaking Social Security, is in trouble.

To some degree, the confluence of disparate issues is coincidence. But in another way it is the logical consequence of Mr. Bush's decision to expend his political capital, as he put it immediately after his re-election, to push through initiatives that he suggested voters had endorsed by putting him back in the White House.

In truth, Stevenson really gives a facile treatment of the compromise reached last night on confirmations, asserting it as a Bush victory with little evidence and even less analysis to support such a conclusion. Stevenson even states that the centrist coalition did little more than delay the inevitable on filibusters, meaning that both sides will wind up right back where they started -- probably on the first Supreme Court nomination. So why is this a Bush victory, when he could have easily had votes on all his nominees if two of the GOP Senators (Graham and DeWine) had remained with the GOP caucus?

If this analysis is the best that the New York Times can provide, they should hide it behind that $50 annual fee for their Op/Ed articles so that bloggers can't see these in the future.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 24, 2005 12:00 PM

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