Road Map: A Finish Without Fireworks Predicted for Kagan

Posted August 2, 2010 at 6:34pm

The Senate’s confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court later this week promises to be one thing: drama-free.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Monday that, unlike previous Supreme Court nominations that included several days of back-and-forth floor debate, the Senate will conduct Kagan’s confirmation intermittently between debates and votes on other issues. That comes even though Kagan’s installment to the high court will be historic: She would become the fourth woman to serve and the third on the current court, the most ever.

But under Reid’s schedule, Kagan will play second fiddle to a series of essentially scripted political “fights” over issues such as energy and a stalled small-business bill.

Democrats and Republicans appear happy to continue to duel over who has the best jobs and economic recovery plans until the August recess begins at the end of the week.

A GOP leadership aide said Monday that the minority would continue to argue that “everything from the president’s agenda [that Democrats have done] is jobs-killing legislation.”

Democrats will continue to accuse Republicans of being in bed with corporate interests and putting their campaign donors’ needs ahead of small businesses, teachers and service providers.

“Unlike Republicans, Democrats believe having teachers in the classroom, firefighters on call and police officers on the beat are more important than passing more Bush tax breaks for CEOs,” Democratic leaders urged their Members to argue in talking points distributed to Senate offices.

And with the midterm elections looming and Democrats looking for ammunition to use against Republicans in August, Reid has packed this week’s schedule with a series of largely symbolic votes designed to provide Democrats with fresh examples of GOP obstructionism.

For instance, Reid will try to force votes on energy bills that are aimed at addressing the BP oil spill, which were developed without GOP input and lack the party’s support. Likewise, Reid could try to force yet another vote on a small-business jobs bill that Republicans have already blocked, as well as try to push through legislation to fund teachers.

Democrats plan to argue that Republicans are obstructing important priorities. Their goal, aides said, is to force Republicans to say “no.”

Of course, missing from the political calculus is Kagan, who will receive bipartisan support when the Senate votes on her confirmation. Republicans tried for weeks to build enough opposition to derail her installment by arguing she was a partisan who was unfit for the court, but they weren’t successful.

President Barack Obama tapped Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on May 9. From day one, her confirmation has taken a backseat to other Senate activities, including the funeral of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Kagan’s confirmation process has been so low key that the major cable news networks barely covered her Judiciary Committee hearings.

Even Reid has prioritized other items: He has not devoted a single news conference to Kagan.

Compare that with the Supreme Court debate on Sonia Sotomayor last year, during which Democrats held numerous media events to counter GOP charges that she would be an activist judge who would use empathy to decide cases.

But when it comes to Kagan, Democrats have not found themselves on the defensive. Although Republicans, led by Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.), tried to inject some controversy into Kagan’s nomination, they never got much traction. The issue they hoped would build opposition, her handling of military recruiters while serving as dean of Harvard Law School, failed to resonate with the public and even many GOP Senators.

Five Republican Senators — Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), Judd Gregg (N.H.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — have endorsed Kagan’s nomination. And just one Democrat, moderate Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), has announced his opposition.