On Tuesday’s TEMS, Andrew Malcolm predicted that the White House would announce its nominee to the Supreme Court by yesterday afternoon. That way, Andrew said, Barack Obama could change the subject from a fumbled response to the Gulf oil spill and yet another near-miss terrorist attack, and dominate the news cycle for the weekend. Politico now says that Obama will announce Solicitor General Elana Kagan’s appointment to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, but not until Monday, but may leak it ahead of the Sunday talk shows:
Look for President Obama to name his Supreme Court pick Monday, and look for it to be Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a former Harvard Law dean. The pick isn’t official, but top White House aides will be shocked if it’s otherwise. Kagan’s relative youth (50) is a huge asset for the lifetime post. And President Obama considers her to be a persuasive, fearless advocate who would serve as an intellectual counterweight to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia, and could lure swing Justice Kennedy into some coalitions The West Wing may leak the pick to AP’s Ben Feller on the later side Sunday, then confirm it for others for morning editions. For now, aides say POTUS hasn’t decided, to their knowledge.
Leaking it on Saturday afternoon would be a waste of a Friday news cycle, but it would make sense to do it today or tomorrow. The Sunday shows will mainly focus on the Gulf spill or Faisal Shahzad, the two top political stories of the week. The former has not been a good narrative for the Obama administration, with plenty of critics questioning the administration’s readiness and attacking its announced drilling-expansion policy. The latter may be better in terms of law enforcement, but already people are questioning why a series of terrorist attacks have come to fruition in the last few months after years of security under the Bush administration. If the White House wants to move attention away from both stories for the Sunday talk shows, an announcement of a SCOTUS pick would be the most effective way to do it.
If it’s Kagan, what does that say about the White House? Kagan is a relatively safe choice who can count on some opposition but not adamant obstruction on the Hill. She’ll be a liberal justice, but probably not a radical one, which will leave the Left disappointed. She won’t get a unanimous vote but won’t get filibustered either. The White House knows this, and such a choice would tell us that they’re not interested in picking a fight with Republicans on Capitol Hill this close to the midterms. Obama wants to burnish his “moderate” cred, and Kagan’s choice allows him to make that argument.
Politically, though, that could be a mistake. A fight on Capitol Hill could actually energize the highly-discouraged progressive base for the next election. It would also energize the conservative base, but that’s already a given. It could give independents a reason to reconsider Obama, but probably won’t do anything for Democrats in Congress in the elections.
Addendum: Could the HuffPo not find a less flattering picture of Kagan?