Top Senate Republican strategists tell POLITICO that, barring unknown facts about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the GOP plans no scorched-earth opposition to her confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.
More than 24 hours after the White House unveiling, no senator has come out in opposition to Sotomayor’s confirmation.
“The sentiment is overwhelming that the Senate should do due diligence but should not make a mountain out of a molehill,” said a top Senate Republican aide. “If there’s no ‘there’ there, we shouldn’t try to create one.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, sounded conciliatory during a round of television interviews on Wednesday.
“We need to all have a good hearing, take our time and do it right, and then the senators cast their vote up or down based on whether or not they think this is the kind of judge that should be on the court,” Sessions said on CNN’s “American Morning.”
GOP officials say they realize the party needs to improve its standing among Hispanic voters in order to have any hope of winning a national election, and they admit that trashing the first Latina nominee to the court could cement stereotypes or further alienate minorities.
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This reality limits Republicans’ options dramatically and virtually guarantees they would be called racists if they said anything that smacks of being out of bounds about such a qualified nominee.
So if the president is picking a fight, it looks increasingly like one he has already won.
Republican officials said they still plan an aggressive investigation of her paper trail, since Supreme Court fights have often taken unpredictable turns.
And the officials said they are not ready to promise that the confirmation vote will occur by the August congressional recess, as President Barack Obama has requested. Even if they view confirmation as a foregone conclusion, they said it might last into September.
A top Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, also has said in interviews that the process should not be rushed.
“Judge Sotomayor has an extensive record,” Schumer told Fox News. “I would hope we could get this done quickly, but thoroughly as well. And obviously, those who want to scrutinize her very carefully have every right to do so. We just don't want dilatory for its own sake.”
Both sides have been preparing for a confirmation fight for years, and say they expect the usual theatrics and posturing to play out. Veterans of such fights say this is partly because both sides use a confirmation battle to lay markers and send signals for the next court pick.
However, senators on both sides said they are confident that unless the process takes some startling turn, Sotomayor will be confirmed in plenty of time for the court’s opening on the fabled first Monday in October.
Radio host Hugh Hewitt was among the leading conservative voices who indicated that no holy war will occur. “I don’t believe in charging up a hill when you’re going to be completely mowed down,” Hewitt said.
Outside groups will continue to wage the fight. Keith Appell of CRC Public Relations, which represents key conservative legal groups, told POLITICO that Sotomayor “is a polarizing figure” who “sounds and acts like a liberal politician instead of an impartial judge.”
“This battle is just getting started, and Republican senators will be armed with a wealth of material to put her controversial record in the spotlight,” Appell said.
The conservative Judicial Confirmation Network released a Web video Wednesday saying: “America deserves better.”
But in an overnight appeal to supporters, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, stopped far short of opposiion: “Contact your two senators today and urge them not to rush to judgment on Sotomayor or approve her based on her biography.”
The muted comments represent an acknowledgment that it will be no easy task to vilify a one-time nominee of President George H.W. Bush who has received confirmation votes from such ardent abortion opponents as former Sens. Bill Frist and Rick Santorum.
Republicans’ only hope of derailing Sotomayor would be a filibuster — a move countless Republicans have opposed in the context of judicial nominees. And even if they took that route, they are virtually certain to lose badly.
Republicans have 40 votes in the Senate — and it's hard to imagine someone like Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) or anyone from a state with big Hispanic population blocking the judge.
Besides, the media's left-of-center bias is rarely more apparent than during court fights. The coverage running up to the pick was slanted heavily toward the notion of how "pragmatic" Obama's legal views are and how unlikely he was to pick a liberal.
Nearly every liberal group in America applauded the pick, although some are now raising questions about Sotomayor’s record — or lack thereof — on abortion, the death penalty, gay marriage and other hot-button issues.
Democratic strategist Bob Shrum isn't very good at getting his candidates elected president, but he nailed the political implications of this pick.
“It’s a superb choice on the merits and I also think a superb choice politically,” Shrum said. “I can’t recall a Supreme Court pick announcement that was that powerful as a piece of messaging.”