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July 17, 2009

Byron York: GOP Gave Up in Sotomayor Fight

Lindsey Graham asked Sotomayor about the left-wing positions she'd taken -- the advocacy positions she'd endorsed -- as head of the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Sotomayor, shockingly, claimed she couldn't remember such piffles. Graham suggested she review the memos bearing her signature he'd mentioned so that she could be asked about them intelligently, without the claim of "I don't recall" halting inquiry.

I expected later questioners to pick up this line of questioning later. They didn't.

To make matters worse, Sotomayor was sometimes unresponsive, and even slippery, in her under-oath testimony. She disavowed virtually all knowledge of the PRLDEF lawsuits, even though Republicans had minutes from old board meetings showing that Sotomayor, as head of the litigation committee, “review[ed] and recommend[ed] a litigation program.” She said she didn’t really mean what her “wise Latina” speech clearly said. And she claimed always to stick closely to the facts and the law, even when she had advocated otherwise.

Sometimes, she descended into non sequitur. On her final day of testimony, Graham asked, “Do you believe that your speeches, properly read, embrace identity politics?”

“I don’t describe it as identity politics,” Sotomayor responded, “because it’s not that I’m advocating the groups do something illegal.”

What in the world did that mean? Graham didn’t follow up.

Nor did Republicans follow up on dozens of other questionable statements. And that was the GOP’s failing. To uncover the real Sotomayor, the activist as well as the judge, required asking short, persistent, fact-based questions. Instead, several Republican senators speechified, lingered on the “wise Latina” issue, and failed to explore in depth her work at PRLDEF. They let her evasions stand.

And in the end, they gave up. As elected officials, the GOP senators didn’t see the value in a scorched-earth fight they were going to lose anyway. And now Sonia Sotomayor — whoever she is — heads to the Supreme Court.

The calculation was simple. As Drew already mentioned, there was no way they could block her -- not even if they filibustered. The very idea that Snowe or Collins would join them is laughable, and even if the Maine Sisters did, they'd still need another Democrat. Which they wouldn't get.

So they decided, as York says, to give up. If they had pressed Sotomayor on the issue, they might have elicited answers -- and possibly further transparent perjury -- that made it a political imperative for the GOP caucus to filibuster, as the base would demand it.

But even if they had, the result would have been the same: Filibuster fails.

So they decided not to press, not to trap Sotomayor in an answer that wound up trapping them.

I can't say I'm pleased with this strategy, as it is at heart a con designed to appease the base by seeming to press her on critical issues -- Ricci, wise Latina -- while deliberately avoiding issues that could have wounded her more.

I understand the strategy, I suppose -- when failure is foreorodained, different strategies suggest themselves -- but I can't endorse a con, once again, on their own constituents, supporters, and donors.

The best I can say is that it's a face-saving, capital-protecting strategy and maybe that's justifiable when actual victory is not possible.

The fact is that we got creamed last year and simply do not have the votes to filibuster except with Democratic aid. GOP Senators are boxed in and limited by this reality, even if we want them to behave as if they're not.

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posted by Ace at 02:38 PM

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