Politics with Ron Elving: Dems Worry over Alito

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NPR senior political editor Ron Elving talks to Noah Adams about the political response to the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. Elving says Alito's conservative rulings on issues such as abortion have many Democrats concerned.


It's DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

In a few minutes, why bats should fear humans. But first, back to politics. At the White House today, it's the first day of the rest of President Bush's second term. Moving quickly to put last week's setbacks behind him, the president announced his new choice for the US Supreme Court. The man is Samuel Alito Jr., an appeals court judge with 15 years on the bench; a big contrast with Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, who last week withdrew from consideration. Alito is now the big name in the capital, eclipsing coverage of the other big story from last week, the indictment of Vice President Cheney's top aide and the continuing investigation of other White House figures. And joining us now to talk about the state of affairs this Monday in the White House and in Washington is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

Ron, what do you make of this nominee, this choice?

RON ELVING (NPR Senior Washington Editor): Noah, the president's going back to his base, back to pleasing the people at the core of the coalition that elected him in 2000, and especially those who re-elected him in 2004. He promised them a conservative who reads the Constitution in the traditional way, not the dynamic way of, say, the last 40 years or 50 years, and he promised them a conservative who's opposed to the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion 1973 nationwide. Now this is the deliver on a promised pick that many of us had expected the president to make before the Harriet Miers nomination that now looks like something of an aberration.

ADAMS: Don't you figure a lot of people around town are saying, `Yeah, why didn't he pick this guy in the first place'?

ELVING: Well, indeed, and certainly on Capitol Hill, quite a few senators are no doubt asking themselves that right now. And back about a month ago, the president was thinking that this was a time for a woman to replace the first woman on the court, Sandra Day O'Connor. She's the one who's stepping down, this is her seat, and it was a good time to name another woman. And there was a good deal of political pressure being brought to bear on him in exactly that same way. As far as her qualifications and her conservative credentials, the president thought she was good enough and conservative enough and that his word personally should be enough for conservatives to accept her. It turned out that elements of his coalition did not see her as appropriate and she was a fine person, a fine lawyer perhaps, but not the powerhouse legal warrior that they really wanted on a high court.

So now so many weeks later, the president is somewhat weakened in making a choice, weakened by the Miers episode, weakened by the Lewis Libby indictment last week, the ongoing investigation of his own top aide, Karl Rove. He's down in the public approval ratings and he needs to shore up, so that's what we see in this particular choice.

ADAMS: And there's a price to pay and that's going to be a big fight ahead. This nomination will bring resistance from Democrats, of course, and even some moderate Republicans, I could assume, in the Senate.

ELVING: Yes, it's a very close vote coming in the Senate, and there's a chance that the Democrats could bring over a few Republicans and possibly beat this nominee outright if the issue really becomes the right to choose. And there's also a chance they could mount and sustain a filibuster. That would take us back to where we were last spring when we were debating a series of nominees for the appeals courts. There was a deal worked out then that allowed some of those people to go through while others were dropped, and we could force that same showdown again and find out whether or not the votes are there to really test the institution of the filibuster itself on the floor of the Senate.

ADAMS: We mentioned earlier this is the real start of the second part of his second term for President Bush. Will people be forgetting now with this nominee and this story the CIA leak story and still the possible indictment of Karl Rove in the White House?

ELVING: For the moment, I think this does push that right off the page, but we'll have to have other stories coming along in the next few days. The White House is going to bring out its program for the bird flu tomorrow in case there should be an epidemic of bird flu. They're going to keep the news flow as heavy as they can. But the Rove situation's going to be around for at least a while longer, and we seem to have a rather persistent prosecutor going on that case so I don't think it's going to go away.

ADAMS: And then you would have Lewis Libby, of course, showing up in court.

ELVING: Yes, he's going to have to make a court appearance later this week and that story will continue to boil along, as well.

ADAMS: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Noah.

ADAMS: To get more of Ron Elving's political analysis, you can read his column Watching Washington, which runs Mondays on our Web site at

And we have more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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