Sotomayor or Healthcare “reform”?
posted at 10:12 am on May 28, 2009 by Karl
Senate Republicans plan no scorched-earth opposition to Judge Sotmayor’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. This dismays conservatives so predictably that Democrats like James Carville would like to fuel it. To date, commentary on the issue tends to be rather narrow, considering how forcefully Republicans (or conservatives, which is a different calculation) should oppose Sotomayor as a single issue in a vacuum.
However, earlier this week, Richard Wolffe reported at The Daily Beast that “[b]y drawing fire to its Supreme Court nominee, Obama’s aides believe that health-care and environmental politics may face less-intense opposition.” The next day, Jan Crawford Greenburg reported for ABCNews:
There also was a slightly different political argument. Advisers calculated she would be the savviest move for the President to avoid an all-out battle over his Court nominee, according to sources close to the process.
With the president hoping to achieve a crowning accomplishment in his first year with health care reform, advisers pointedly warned against another big fight elsewhere, sources said.
Those two accounts might seem contardictory at first blush, but both reveal a White House that wants to conserve its resources for building a Left-center coalition around a government takeover of the healthcare sector, while hoping to distract conservatives with a fight over Sotomayor (fighting among themselves as well as with Democrats). Wolffe’s fight scenario is the more plausible, as it fits with Pres. Obama’s general “too much, too soon” approach. He does not want a perceived crisis to go to waste, and likely has calculated that his best strategy is to mount a multi-front war that divides and overwhelms his opponents.
The Senate remains the real obstacle on all of these fronts. The difference among these fronts is that stopping Sotomayor currently appears to be the least promising for the GOP. Indeed, even if the GOP managed to derail Sotomayor, Obama would simply turn to the next left-wing judge on his list.
In contrast, there is a much greater likelihood of getting a few key Democratic defections on the more controversial elements of whatever healthcare proposal emerges from Sen. Baucus’s sausage factory, or on any cap-and-trade proposal to wreck the economy in pursuit of insignificant reductions in projected global warming. Moreover, a defeat on these agenda items could take them off the table for years.
Senate Republicans institutionally have less staff and fewer resources to mount each fight than the Democrats in the majority, let alone the bureaucracies that can be mobilized by the Obama White House. (There is also the related issue of whether the Senate GOP can walk and chew gum at the same time.) Accordingly, it makes more sense for GOP Senators to fight harder on the issues they stand a better chance of winning, particularly given the weight Obama has put on those issues.
That does not mean that Sotomayor should get a free pass. She is a deeply political pick who engages in racial stereotyping and doubts whether she can rise above her own biases in most cases. Senate Republicans can make the debate on her nomination a teachable moment, making the case that the philosophy she and Obama espouse runs directly contrary to the oath federal judges take. But given the marginal benefit of actually derailing Sotomayor, Senate Republicans should probably save the scorched earth tactics for fighting a government takeover of healthcare.