Senate Panel To Vote On Kagan Nomination
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on the Elena Kagan nomination. It's been three weeks since the committee held hearings on Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court. Since then, Republicans have continued to ask for documents about Kagan's work as solicitor general under President Obama.
Joining us now to talk about Kagan's prospects is NPR news analyst Juan Williams.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So those hearings back in June produced some lively exchanges, but no major new controversies erupted. What's your sense; did those hearings actually change any votes on the committee?
WILLIAMS: I don't think so. I think Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, seems to have been pleased with Kagan's responses and thought that she was, in fact, forthcoming with the committee. What has changed, Mary Louise, is this: the NRA, the National Rifle Association, has become very active in opposing Kagan and with some other very conservative groups -Judicial Action, Move Forward America - they have expressed opposition to the point of buying commercials around the country, to try to stir more Republican opposition to Kagan.
KELLY: You mentioned Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. How are other Republican votes likely to shake out on this in the Senate?
WILLIAMS: Well, just before we go on to Republicans, let me say that there is pressure on some of the more conservative Democrats to try to get them to shift their votes, by folks like the National Rifle Association. But when you come to Republicans, Scott Brown from Massachusetts, who introduced Kagan at the hearings, is probably the most likely person to side with her when it comes to a final vote. And then you've got people like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, the Republicans from Maine, are they willing to entertain support for Kagan? That's really the question. Then of course, Lindsey Graham I think, is the most likely Republican to support her.
KELLY: And how are those pressures coming from the outside - like the N.R.A. that you mentioned - how's that likely to play out when this gets to the Senate floor assuming everything goes as expected in the committee?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think then you might get some Republican support from people who aren't on the committee. At that point it will be chewed over, and I think you'll have a sense of inevitability given the Democrats control 58 votes. And when you look at those Republicans, I'm just - I'm taken, particularly, by John McCain. John McCain who was once a member of the gang of 14 opposed to filibusters, the N.R.A. is now calling for a filibuster. But John McCain, under political pressure, as he runs for Senate back in Arizona, is suddenly opposed to Kagan. And that's why she's going to get less votes, it looks like right now, than Sonia Sotomayor got, even though most people think that she's more moderate than Sotomayor, and that she did a better job at the confirmation hearings.
KELLY: It is interesting, you know, if you look back at the '90s for example, the 1990s when we saw Republicans give Democratic nominees, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, they gave them support. What's going on? Has the scene changed so much with this out of control partisanship we hear so much about?
WILLIAMS: Well, clearly this is an election season. You've got the elections coming up very shortly. And secondly, I think, you know, you had nine Republican votes for Sotomayor. She was a Hispanic woman. I don't think that Kagan has that level of defense, if you will. Already, seven Republicans have stated they're going to oppose her.
It's also the era of Obama in some ways for Republicans who have developed a strategy in the Senate of just consistent opposition - the White House calls it obstruction - to the president's plans. And I think, right now, Republicans have decided, especially with the pressure coming from such a rich lobbying group as the N.R.A., that it's safer to simply say no to Kagan.
KELLY: Let me ask you about that Republican opposition to the Obama administration, and just before we let you go, ask - change gears for a second and talk about the jobless benefits. They have been held up for weeks because nearly all 41 Republicans are united on that issue. They don't want to spend anymore without corresponding cuts. What's going on with that?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think the Republicans here are playing on anxieties about deficit spending, which now rank second only to jobs as a concern on the part of the public. And the idea is that this is big government spending out of control, liberal President Obama going wild. That whole argument is very big in this election season.
KELLY: Are they going to get past it though? Are they going to pass jobless benefits?
WILLIAMS: I think the Democrats have the votes to do it this week, but again, the Republicans are gambling that while they may be painted as insensitive and hard-hearted to those who don't have a job and need those unemployment benefits, they think they will gain more from people who have concerns about the size of the government's deficit.
KELLY: OK. Thank you, Juan.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Mary Louise.
KELLY: That's NPR News analyst Juan Williams.
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