Monday, January 30, 2006

Sen. Barack Obama, the freshman Democrat from Illinois who is one of his party’s brightest stars, chided his party yesterday for its “over-reliance” on “procedural maneuvers” such as the fruitless filibuster threats against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.

“We need to recognize — because Judge Alito will be confirmed — that if we’re going to oppose a nominee, that we’ve got to persuade the American people that, in fact, their values are at stake,” he said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I think that the Democrats have to do a much better job in making their case on these issues,” he said. “These last-minute efforts, using procedural maneuvers inside the Beltway, I think, has been the wrong way of going about it.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, seemed to agree.

“I think a filibuster makes sense when you have a prospect of actually succeeding,” he said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Mr. Obama had a simple prescription for his fellow Democrats.

“There’s one way to guarantee that the judges who are appointed to the Supreme Court are judges that reflect our values. And that’s to win elections,” he said.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden predicted that the attempt to block Judge Alito, scheduled for today, will fail. As of yesterday, at least 62 senators were sticking with their pledge to oppose a filibuster — two more than the number needed to kill a filibuster.

Today’s cloture vote would pave the way for certain confirmation in a vote tomorrow. So far, three Democrats have announced they will join at least 53 Republicans in supporting Judge Alito’s confirmation.

Still, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden said yesterday that they will support their party’s hopeless filibuster.

The Alito nomination and the efforts to thwart it have led to more than one Democrat changing positions.

Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said last week on the Senate floor that all time for debate will have been exhausted on the Alito nomination by the time it is voted on. By the next day, however, he announced he would vote in favor of a filibuster, which extends debate.

After the hearings earlier this month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Judge Alito’s nomination does not warrant a filibuster.

“I do not see a likelihood of a filibuster,” she said Jan 16 on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I don’t see those kinds of egregious things emerging that would justify a filibuster.”

Further, she said, a filibuster against Judge Alito would be an abuse of the parliamentary tool.

“When it comes to filibustering a Supreme Court appointment, you really have to have something out there, whether it’s gross moral turpitude or something that comes to the surface,” she said.

But by the end of last week, she had changed her mind.

“Based on a very long and thoughtful analysis of the record and transcript, which I tried to indicate in my floor statement yesterday, I’ve decided that I will vote no on cloture,” she said in a statement issued Friday.

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