Republicans and conservatives are sending mixed messages on how GOP senators should and will handle President Obama's choice to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.
GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, one of the most conservative members of the Senate, indicates he will be fair and understands Obama has the votes to confirm his nominee. However, the New York Times reports that conservatives are working up a frenzy, to work over the pick no matter the choice. They say it is essential to stop the Obama pleasure ride.
In this case, I trust the conservative memo writers a lot more than Sessions, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions has a track record of beating the right-wing drums ad nauseam, no matter the issue.
Another Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, said the president assured him his choice would not be an activist or crusading liberal ideologue. The problem here is that several Republican senators will surely question the legal qualifications of Obama's choice.
The names suggested so far as being on the president's short list include some female jurists who are likely to test the promises from senators like Sessions or Hatch's understanding of what constitutes an activist.
If the president selects an Hispanic woman, as could happen, Republicans face a real test. Recent surveys show that Hispanics voted in overwhelming numbers for Obama last November. Further, their voting numbers are increasing in the Sun Belt states and drifting away from Republicans.
Republicans run the obvious risk of antagonizing those Hispanics if they are seen to be roughing her up, or attacking any other minority choice for that matter.
To be sure, Democrats in the Senate were not gentle on George W. Bush's two choices for the court, namely John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Their records were combed over and the confirmation votes were close. Conservatives complained in loud voice.
The final tally for Obama's pick could be on a partisan basis too. However, as Sessions understands, the Democrats have the votes.
The Republicans could resort to a filibuster, but that would be a potential disaster for the party that lost convincingly to Obama. A stalling tactic may work in some sporting events, but not in this venue.
My guess is that Republicans will be careful in the debate leading to a confirmation vote and make their case in full throat.
But Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, may find it difficult to keep his firebrand members under control. That includes the aforementioned Jeff Sessions.
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