Monday, July 13, 2009

The Weekly Strike-7/13-7/19

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview the week in politics. It's going to be action-packed, so let's get right to it.

SOTOMAYOR: Sure, the President is meeting today with leaders from organized labor, and he's throwing out the first pitch at the MLB All Star Game tomorrow, but let's be honest: all eyes will be focused on the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, as 19 Senators prepare to grill Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

The result of this week is almost certain. Barring an unforeseen disaster, Sotomayor should be easily confirmed. Senators, though, use the confirmation hearings as a forum for a partisan debate on judicial philosophy, meaning that there could still be fireworks. Republicans are certain to attack Sotomayor for comments she made suggesting that one's background influences how he or she might decide a certain case. They will rail against what they see as "judicial activism," using the court to change the law to conform to one's own social views. Democrats will (hopefully) be steadfast in their defense of Sotomayor's impressive record, citing her Ivy League education credentials, here decades of experience, and her "well qualified" rating from the American Bar Association. They'll also (hopefully) point out the hypocrisy in the Republican's arguments about judicial activism, pointing out that the current Conservative Supreme Court has overruled several settled precedents.

The hearing begins today at 10am EDT. Each of the 19 Senators will make a 20 minute opening statement. This will probably take several hours, and therefore we won't hear from the nominee herself until the late afternoon, most likely. How could you not feel sorry for Sotomayor? She has to listen to 19 Senators bloviate for 6 hours and act like she cares what they're saying. Following opening statements, Sotomayor will give her opening remarks. Then, Senators, by seniority, will take turns asking questions for the remainder of the week. Here is a list of members of the judiciary committee, and what to expect from each of them:


Patrick Leahy, Chairman, (VT): He's a staunch liberal, and will be a staunch defender of Sotomayor's credentials.

Herb Kohl (WI): I don't expect too much out of him. This billionaire Senator tends to be on the quiet side, and isn't one of the committee's best debaters.

Dianne Feinstein (CA): Feinstein used to be the only woman on the committee, so she would inevitably always be the one asking about women's rights. She'll now be more free to ask questions of her choosing. She has long been an advocate for a woman's right to choose.

Russ Feingold (WI): Feingold always has some of the best questions at these hearings, because he's a critic of executive power and a defender of civil liberties. He's no pushover, even with a Democratic nominee. I expect him to ask some tough questions. He has so far reserved judgment on the nominee.

Chuck Schumer (NY): The always media-hungry Schumer always makes his presence known. He wrote a letter to Obama recommending Sotomayor as a Supreme Court nominee before she was nominated, and he has been her fiercest defender in the media. Softball time!

Dick Durbin (IL): The liberal Majority Whip is a close ally of Obama, and therefore is likely to take it easy on Sotomayor.

Ben Cardin (MD): Now, we get into the freshmen and sophomores who will be going through their first Supreme Court hearings. Cardin is a relatively non-descript Senator, so I don't expect much fireworks during his questioning.

Sheldon Whitehouse (RI): This rising star in the Democratic party has a sharp mind, and is a former state attorney general. I bet he's been thinking up some good questions. He is another Senator who has been outspoken against Sotomayor's critics in the media.

Amy Klobuchar (MN): She is also a very bright, young Senator, and was a former county attorney. This will be a good opportunity for her to showcase her intelligence and political skill.

Ted Kaufman (DE): The retiring Kaufman probably won't bring nearly as much to the table as the man he replaced, the loquacious Vice President Joe Biden. In fact, he may be a bit checked out since he doesn't have to worry about reelection.

Arlen Specter (PA): Ahh, the principle-less Republican-turned-Democrat. Because he's being challenged in next year's Democratic Senate primary by liberal Joe Sestak, Specter will have a lot to prove to his new Democratic base. He better be slobbering (figuratively) all over this nominee.

Al Franken (MN): I wish he could just be funny. But I bet he wants people to think he's actually really serious, so he'll hold off on the jokes.


Jeff Sessions, Ranking Member, (AL): The new top Republican on the committee will be among the most interesting Senators to watch. His own nomination to a district court in the 1980's was scuttled by this very committee because of his questionable views on race (he once said that the worst thing about the KKK was that they smoked a lot of pot). He has positioned himself as the chief critic of the nomination.

Orrin Hatch (UT): The former chairman of the committee hasn't said much on this nominee, though he has expressed concerns about her impartiality. He'll ask some tough questions in that domain, but I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up supporting her.

Chuck Grassley (IA): Grumpy old Grassley takes a break from trying to single-handedly bring down health care reform to participate in these hearings. Expect him to act like a grumpy old man.

Jon Kyl (AZ): Kyl is the Republican Whip, and thus has to thread the needle carefully. He doesn't want to disappoint his base by not asking tough questions, but he doesn't want to make his political party look combative. Kyl also represents a state with a large Hispanic population, who may not take well to his lambasting the first Latina Supreme Court nominee

Lindsay Graham (SC): Graham is talkative and combative, and can be a real irritating SOB. But, last week he suggested that he could possibly support the nominee. He's a key Senator to watch during the hearings.

John Cornyn (TX): Cornyn, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is facing the same predicament as Kyl. He too represents a state with a large Hispanic population.

Tom Coburn (OK): Expectations are low for this Senator, who during Chief Justice John Roberts' hearing in 2005, was caught doing a crossword puzzle.

We will make sure you get all the details of these hearings in this week's entries.

THE SENATE: Besides this hearing, the Senate will have a relatively quiet week. The Senate will vote this evening to cut off debate on the nomination of Robert Groves to be the director of the census. His nomination has been held up by a couple Republicans who are worried that the census will do a lot of things that it won't actually do (see Bachmann, Michelle). I expect him to be confirmed. The Senate will spend the remainder of the week on it's 3rd of 12 appropriations bills, this one funding the Department of Defense. I expect the chamber to consider a number of amendments before final passage later in the week.

We'll also keep an eye out for any progress on health reform. I was VERY discouraged to hear Dick Durbin (D-IL) say that the Senate will probably not adopt the House's approach of taxing the wealthy to pay for health reform. WHY NOT? More on health care reform later in the week.

THE HOUSE: The House will consider suspension bills today and tomorrow. On Wednesday and Thursday, it will consider two more appropriations bills (its 8th and 9th out of 12). The first one funds Energy, Water Development and Related Agencies, and the latter funds Financial Services and General Government expenses (whatever that means). I expect both bills to pass, but we may see more dilatory tactics from Republicans, who are still upset that they are not able to offer unlimited amendments to these bills, as is custom.

We'll also keep a close eye on the House regarding health reform. The three chairmen of the committees of jurisdiction were scheduled to release the bill in full last week, but were forced to delay because Blue Dog Democrats (as we talked about last week) produced their obligatory litany of objections. If they can come up with some sort of agreement, we'll see a draft of the full bill by the end of the week.

See you tonight!

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