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Democrats concede Judge Alito victory

Sen. John Kerry dashed home from the Swiss Alps yesterday to man the barricades of a futile filibuster against Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Well before he reached the battlefield, however, Democrats had waved the white flag and agreed that next week's vote to confirm Judge Alito will surely succeed.

"Everyone knows there is not enough votes to support a filibuster," Minority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday, several hours before Mr. Kerry arrived.

By midday, Republicans had dubbed Mr. Kerry's international politicking the "Swiss Miss."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan called it a "pretty historic" day.

"This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland," Mr. McClellan said. "I think even for a senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibusters from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps."

Meanwhile, Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, announced yesterday he is "leaning in favor" of the nominee. He would join at least three other Democrats who plan to vote with the vast majority of Republicans in favor of Judge Alito.

"It is clear to me that a majority of the American people and the people I represent support his confirmation," Mr. Conrad told reporters after meeting with Judge Alito yesterday. Also, several more Democrats announced that while they may oppose Judge Alito, they will permit his nomination to get a final vote on the Senate floor.

Still, Mr. Kerry would not be deterred.

"I know this is flying against the political punditry of Washington," he said after arriving in the nearly empty Senate chamber yesterday afternoon. "But this is a fight worth making."

No longer constrained by a self-imposed rule during his campaign against using any French words, Mr. Kerry said Judge Alito's confirmation amounted to an ideological "coup" at the Supreme Court.

Mr. Kerry's speech came after 12 hours of Republican ridicule -- both for the futility of his filibuster strategy and for the fact that he announced it while attending the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

"Kerry Calls for Le Filibuster From Swiss," the Drudge Report said.

"I suppose we can all agree that it is an international filibuster because it was apparently hatched in Davos, Switzerland, where Senator Kerry now is with those masters of the universe that are out there trying to figure our world economy out," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican.

Even the New York Times, which had ordered the filibuster in an editorial only hours before, noted in yesterday's editions that Democrats "cringed" at the "awkwardness" of Mr. Kerry's international wheeling and dealing.

Few think Mr. Kerry's effort will succeed. Among those few was Democratic strategist Bob Shrum.

"I think there's a very real chance to get those 41 votes" for a filibuster, he told TV's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews. "And I think some pressure ought to be put on moderate Republicans, like Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, who says, for example, he's pro-choice, but is under a lot of pressure from the administration to vote for Alito."

While most Republican scorn was directed at Mr. Kerry yesterday, some was reserved for Mr. Reid.

On Thursday night, the Democratic leader publicly agreed that all debate on the Alito nomination will have been exhausted by the time the Senate votes on it next week. But by yesterday morning, he had decided that he would support a filibuster anyway.

This, to Republicans, smelled like Mr. Kerry's claim during the 2004 campaign to be for the Iraq war before he was against it.

"Harry Reid's position on Judge Alito's confirmation has more holes that a slice of Swiss cheese," said Tracey Schmitt, press secretary for the Republican National Committee. "After stating an unwillingness to support a filibuster, it looks as though the Davos Democrats were able to twist Reid's arm enough to switch him from 'Filibuster? Not me.' to 'Filibuster? Oui! Oui!'"

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