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November 2, 2005
Anti-Filibuster Forces Add Strength As Bush Reaches Out To Moderates

Two stories out of Washington help explain the frustration felt by Harry Reid yesterday and his need to pull a splashy stunt to try to capture the press' attention away from the Alito nomination. The first, a Washington Post story, reports that the Bush administration has started expanding Judge Alito's Senatorial visits to moderates outside of the Judiciary Committee to feed the momentum that appears to have built for his confirmation:

A day after President Bush nominated him to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Alito spent the day on Capitol Hill introducing himself to more lawmakers. He focused on Democratic senators representing Republican-leaning states as well as Republican members of a bipartisan coalition that headed off judicial filibusters this year.

White House strategists assume that they will lose at least the 22 Senate Democrats who voted against confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in September. But they hope to win over enough red-state Democrats to thwart any attempt to block Alito. If the Republican leadership can hold together its 55-member caucus, it would need five Democrats to break a filibuster and ensure Alito's confirmation. ...

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), another member of the Gang of 14, said that "it's way too early to talk about extraordinary circumstances." The group -- seven Republicans and seven Democrats -- plans to meet tomorrow in the office of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to talk through its approach to the nomination.

Alito, a potent conservative voice on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, was chosen by Bush after conservatives forced the withdrawal of Harriet Miers's nomination last week. Alito began his tour of red-state Democrats yesterday with Sen. Tim Johnson (S.D.). He is to visit Nelson today and Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) tomorrow.

None of the three sits on the Judiciary Committee, whose members are usually visited first by Supreme Court nominees, and all three said the White House offered the courtesy calls without being asked.

It demonstrates that the White House understands the need to get in front of the radical Left's efforts to define Alito before they do it for him. It contrasts with the reluctance that the White House showed in having Miers meet with anyone more than necessary in her brief stint as the nominee and underscores the confidence that Bush has in Alito's ability to convince moderates of his outstanding qualities. Getting moderates on board now, at least to the extent of opposing a filibuster, will keep the Democrats from sinking Alito's nomination. If a floor vote gets taken, Alito will win it, and probably rather easily.

The key may still be the GOP votes in the Gang of 14, however. Two have already stated categorically that they will not support the notion of "extraordinary circumstances" for Judge Alito. Those two, Lindsay Graham and Mike DeWine, are generally considered the most conservative of the Republican squishes anyway. However, the Washington Times notes that a pro-choice member of the group also has her doubts about using a filibuster, given the candidate involved:

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and another group member, was largely positive about the nomination despite her "troubling concerns" about Judge Alito's dissent in a 1991 case in which he said it was not an "undue burden" for a woman to notify her husband before an abortion.

"I do not yet see a basis for invoking extraordinary circumstances," she said. "He clearly has the legal credentials, the professional excellence and the integrity required of a Supreme Court Justice."

That makes three Republican votes in the Gang of 14 that have publicly repudiated "extraordinary circumstances" or significantly played it down. Two Democrats joined Collins as well in her skepticism about applying an extremist label to Alito, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Both come from solid red states, and neither want to have to fight their next re-election campaign with a filibuster against an Alito on their record.

Barring some horrendous and highly unlikely revelation from this well-known and long-time jurist, this nomination looks like a lock. That has Reid scrambling to distract the Left by providing cheap-trick circuses for the press, desperately trying to force the Bush administration back on the defensive. However, with their fizzled Fitzmas rapidly dissipating and another clear winner for Bush on the Supreme Court, the Democrats have lost that momentum and have to settle once again for the role that voters selected for them last November and in the last three elections: powerless.

UPDATE: Susan Collins is pro-choice, not pro-life, which goes to show you that the Captain should not miss his morning cup of Earl Grey before venturing out onto the blogospheric seas. Thanks to a number of CQ readers for that correction.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 2, 2005 7:16 AM

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