Democrats break silence on Alito: Filibuster unlikely, frustration high

John Byrne
Published: January 25, 2006

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Senate Democrats are buckling down for the final battle on conservative Bush Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, and senior aides say they will be unable to stop his final confirmation to the court.

Advisers to Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee express a palpable frustration at being unable to stop the man who most believe will significantly shift the nation’s highest court to the right. In conversations over the last week, aides in various Senate offices have privately told RAW STORY of their consternation with how the Alito confirmation process has played out.

Today, a senior Democratic aide admitted the filibuster is a “long shot,” and that some Democrats who have announced their intention to vote against Alito have signaled they will not support a move to filibuster the vote.


In a filibuster, 40 senators can block the nomination from reaching the Senate floor by voting against a procedure known as “cloture.” However, senators can still vote for cloture and then vote against Alito in the final vote. A vote for cloture means only that the senator supports a vote being held.

In other words, those who oppose Alito can still vote to support his nomination coming up for a vote – meaning that only 51 votes are needed to ensure his confirmation. An Associated Press report Wednesday said 51 senators will vote for Alito.

“There are a lot more people that want to vote no and think he’s not the right guy, and a lot less people who want to support the filibuster,” one veteran aide said.

The Democrats’ inability to block Alito – the second conservative nominee President Bush has tapped to join the Supreme Court this year – has stirred frustration among Democratic members in the Senate. One longtime staffer went so far as to accuse the caucus of “myopia.”

“The myopia among too many Senate Democrats is stunning,” the aide said. “They can’t see this is the fight for the future of the Supreme Court. Three years from now if Justice Alito has rolled back the right to choose, Democrats should want to be remembered for fighting tooth and nail to stop this guy.”

“This is a fight for history, you can’t just take the issue off the table,” the aide continued. “Does the country understand what’s at stake right now? Probably not. But they will when Alito does damage to our Constitution, and if we don’t fight now, voters will say a pox on both our houses.”

One aide said part of the problem is that Democratic senators haven’t felt a groundswell of opposition from constituents. Polls show that Alito’s nomination is supported by most Americans.

“People aren’t engaged in this fight,” one senior aide said. “The reality is this isn’t something that American people are calling in droves about. We’re getting more calls in on NSA spying than we are on Alito.”

Another longtime aide to a senator on the Judiciary Committee said Democrats feel they simply can’t win and are looking to focus their energy elsewhere.

“I think that people kind of saw the writing on the wall, and that [opposition to Alito] doesn’t have a lot of energy. Oddly the whole hearing in the aftermath of [John] Roberts and [Harriet] Miers -- everybody thought it was going to be the big enchilada because of the stakes, replacing a moderate rather than a conservative.”

“I guess nobody anticipated the dynamic. This has kind of sputtered out, and I think the Democrats are like, ‘Look, Is this the issue that we want to dominate the news, our attempt to present ourselves to the American public.’ I think that Democrats think that if there was a filibuster, if this thing went on for a few months, in the end we wouldn’t win... [and] there are so many other things where we could take advantage of our strength relative to the Republicans here.”

The aide compared Alito’s performance with that of Chief Justice John Roberts, another Bush nominee who was confirmed this summer. Both men, he said, were polished and didn’t have any “egregious” disqualifying characteristics in the eyes of the American public.

“Alito is not our choice obviously but its hard to say that there’s something so egregious that’s completely disqualifying,” the aide remarked. “He’s just not that scary a person like a Bork..”

Still, one aide close to the Democratic leadership said that they hadn’t given up hope of a filibuster.

“Things change every fifteen minutes,” the staffer quipped.


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