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E-mailbag: Call 'Em Like (Everyone) Sees 'Em

Remember the days of judicial filibusters and the "nuclear option" in the U.S. Senate? Remember how all that was supposed to be just a warm-up for a Supreme Court nomination? How times have changed. Perhaps Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) summed it up best during Tuesday's hearings on the nomination of Judge John Roberts: "So you will be chief justice."

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), while he conducted a robust dialogue with the judge, seemed to implicitly acknowledge that his efforts were moot, speaking to the judge as though he'd already been confirmed:

"… we are rolling the dice with you, Judge. We are going to face decisions -- you are and the American public is going to face decisions about whether or not ... patents can be issued for the creation of human life."

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) seemed frustrated at the foregone conclusion of Roberts' confirmation: "This is a confirmation proceeding, however, not a coronation," he said.

And journalists have echoed the impression of the hearings as not much more than a formality. Last night on the "Evening News," correspondent Gloria Borger summed up the Democrats' strategy during the hearings:

"They know they have to ask the questions, the Democrats do, and they know that they're not going to get the answers. But they have to make their case that this is not someone that they would have nominated. And I think they also believe, Bob, that in the end he's going to get confirmed without a filibuster."

"And it sounds like it's going to be a slam dunk right now," said Schieffer. "Sure does," Borger agreed.

NBC's Pete Williams on "Today" Monday:

"Administration officials predict a 10-8 party line vote for Roberts in committee. But Democrats concede he'll likely be here on the court when the term starts next month, unless these hearings produce a surprise."

Linda Douglass on ABC's "World News Tonight" Tuesday:
"The Democrats are going to continue to try to pepper him on issues like the death penalty and school prayer and other kinds of rights. But they think that there's very little chance they can defeat him."

PE got an e-mail from John G., who seemed riled that in calling the Roberts' nomination a fait accompli, CBS News appeared to reflect "right wing" views on the issue:
"Where does Bob Schieffer get off saying Roberts confirmation is certain and will be a 'slam dunk' for Bush? Seems things are being pushed even more to the right since Dan left. Your blatant right wing attitude makes me sick."

PE spoke with Gloria Borger, who said that the press is not editorializing, but reporting. "In no way shape or form are we reporting something that isn't there," said Borger. "If you were to go to the U.S. Senate and talk to Republicans and Democrats as I do every day, there is no one who would bet against the confirmation of Judge Roberts."

There are a host of reasons that point to the likelihood of Roberts' confirmation, and any journalist covering the story would agree with that, said Borger. "Given the fact that Roberts has been rated highly qualified and the 'Gang of 14' seems to be remaining intact at this juncture and will support Roberts, it is very likely that he is going to be confirmed without a filibuster. Of course, if there should be some last minute revelation, then anything can happen, but at his point, the reporting in many outlets -- right and left -- is pointing to the fact that Roberts is very likely to be confirmed to be he next chief justice."

Under different circumstances, news outlets may have included more information about the interest groups who support and oppose Roberts' nomination, said Borger (noting that the groups were testifying today) but coverage of Hurricane Katrina has limited that type of coverage. While she said that coverage of the hurricane and the Roberts nomination has struck a fine balance at CBS, Borger acknowledged that perhaps interest groups' concerns were not heard as much as they would have been had another huge story not been looming. "If we didn't have the issue of Katrina taking up the airwaves -- as well it should -- you might have heard a lot from the interest groups and perhaps they were not heard because the hurricane is such a huge story."