The Note, 5/29/2009: The Fight Within — Republican vs. Republican on Sotomayor

By Gorman Gorman

May 29, 2009 8:44am

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl reports: Here is a sign of the political brilliance of the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court: There is an intramural war among Republicans over how to take her on. The latest GOP salvos come from Peggy Noonan and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and are aimed at Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and the loud chorus of conservatives who have called for Sotomayor’s head. "Some, and they are idiots, look at Judge Sotomayor and say: attack, attack, kill," Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal. A conservative activist told the New York Times, ‘We need to brand her.’ Another told me a fight is needed to excite the base. "Excite the base? How about excite a moderate, or interest an independent? How about gain the attention of people who aren’t already on your side?" More Noonan: "She is of course a brilliant political pick—Hispanic when Republicans have trouble with Hispanics, a woman when they’ve had trouble with women. Her background (public housing, Newyorican, Catholic school, Princeton, prominence) is as moving as Clarence Thomas’s, and that is moving indeed. Politically she’s like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die." Less eloquently, but more consequentially, Senator John Cornyn is saying much the same thing. On judicial matters, Senator Cornyn may be the most formidable Republicans in the Senate, and one of the most conservative.  But Cornyn tells National Public Radio he does not like to hear Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh call Sonia Sotomayor a racist. Asked by NPR if he’s worried that comments like Limbaugh and Gingrich’s harm the confirmation debate, Cornyn said: "Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong." That doesn’t mean Conryn will support her.  But he thinks the debate should focus on her legal views and her record. Even Sotomayor’s record on abortion (or lack thereof) is playing out well for the White House:  Just ask Barbara Boxer and Pro-life Catholic William Donahue. Despite all the hand-wringing about Sotomayor’s  unknown views on abortion, Boxer says she isn’t worried at all. From the Washington Post: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the Senate’s leading abortion rights supporters, said she will not specifically ask Sotomayor about Roe but said she has no reason to doubt Sotomayor’s position on the issue. "I feel as comfortable as I could possibly feel," Boxer said. And yet — Pro-lifer William Donohue Tells the Washington Times he likes Sotomayor too. "William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said Judge Sotomayor’s record has more bright spots than conservative Catholics can reasonably expect to get from an appointee of President Obama. "’If the Republicans are smart, they would not fight this one," he told The Washington Times in an interview Thursday.’" Remember Miguel Estrada? For all the concern about alienating Hispanic voters, Byron York reminds us that Democrats torpedoed President Bush’s nomination of Miguel Estrada to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.  York: "It was precisely the fact that Estrada was Hispanic that made Democrats and their activist allies want to kill his nomination. They were determined to deny a Republican White House credit, political and otherwise, for putting a first-rate Hispanic nominee on the bench." Sotomayor:  another Scalia? The New York Times looks at the temperament issue, with some choice quotes from lawyers who have appeared before her court and call her "difficult", "nasty" and a "terror on the bench." "Her demeanor on the bench is an issue that conservatives opposed to her nomination see as a potential vulnerability — and one that Mr. Obama carefully considered before selecting her." Stylistically, she’s more Scalia than Thomas, known for tough, relentless and occasionally acerbic questioning.  To supporters, that’s a good thing. "Judge Sotomayor’s colleagues on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit say her tough and direct questioning reflects engagement and, sometimes, an effort to persuade her colleagues. Those qualities, coupled with a gregarious personality, they said, make her a powerful force behind the scenes, where she has used her mastery of the cases to change minds, improve opinions and forge consensus. "Those skills, some observers say, could make her an able politician on the Supreme Court and allow her to serve as an intellectual counterweight to Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative who is known for his acerbic questioning." Stimulus:  Sluggish Start The New York Times reported a few weeks ago that only 6 percent of the $787 billion stimulus had been spent.  It seemed like an anemic number inconsistent with all the talk of "shovel-ready" projects and the need for a quick injection of federal tax dollars into the economy.  Now it turns out that the number — which the Times took directly from the White House’s figures on recovery.gov – was exaggerated.  It turns out the White House had over-stated the amount of stimulus spending by almost one-third, vastly over-stating how much money the Labor Department had spent on its unemployment trust fund. Michael Cooper in the New York Times: "The adjusted figures mean that the value of stimulus activity at that time was actually only $35 billion or $36 billion — less than 5 percent of the $787 billion package. "The Labor Department’s adjustment means that the graph on recovery.gov showing its spending to date — which had looked earlier in the month like a sharp inclined plane — now more closely resembles a particularly steep mountain, going up and then down." Jake Tapper spots a particularly glaring White House exaggeration. In it’s "100 Days, 100 Projects" report on the stimulus, the White House a "$27 million" project to "green retrofit" the Regency House public housing project in Washington, DC.  Tapper reports the actual stimulus money used in the project:  $59,000. Attention Republicans:  There must be a pony in here somewhere Gallup puts President Obama’s approval rating at an enviable 65 percent, but that is exactly where Jimmy Carter was at this point during his presidency. The Literary Doctor Howard Dean has two announcements today: 1) He’s written a new book, entitled "Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform:  How We Can Achieve Affordable Medical Care for Every American and Make Our Jobs Safer"; and, 2)  He’s becoming the chairman of the Progressive book club. Another day, another Czar.  Today the President will announce a new White House cybersecurity czar to coordinate the government’s efforts to protect government and civilian computer networks in the United States. "Now, cybersecurity will also rank as one of the key threats that Mr. Obama is seeking to coordinate from the White House," David Sanger and Thom Shanker report in the New York Times.  Sanger and Shanker report that there is more to this than meets the eye.  The White House announcement today will focus on defensive efforts.  The Pentagon also plans to create a new cyber command to coordinate offensive capabilities "as a deterrent or along side conventional weapons."   Think of it this way:  Computer hackers in military uniforms capable of taking down hostile computer networks around the world. "We are not comfortable discussing the question of offensive cyberoperations, but we consider cyberspace a war-fighting domain," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. "We need to be able to operate within that domain just like on any battlefield, which includes protecting our freedom of movement and preserving our capability to perform in that environment." Gates:  Hero to the Left? How strange it is.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates — a life-long Republican, dedicated cold warrior, and the lone holdover from the Bush Administration -is the leading contender for Most Valuable Player in the Obama cabinet, especially among the left. Exhibit A — This  love-letter from Joe Klein in Time Magazine: "After a quietly impressive career in government that has spanned more than 30 mostly Republican years, Robert Gates is suddenly seeming almost, well, charismatic. He reeks authority. He is, according to several sources, the most respected voice in National Security Council debates. The President is said to love his unadorned manner. Much of which is attributable to the fact that, in the self-proclaimed twilight of his public career, Gates has emerged as that most exotic of Washington species — the bureaucrat unbound, candid and fearless. He tells members of Congress what he really thinks about their pet programs. He upends Pentagon priorities, demotes the military-industrial hardware pipeline and promotes the immediate needs of the troops on the front line. He fires high-ranking subordinates without muss or controversy .., His nonstop effort to reform the institution — abetted by military rebels who had been cast into the outer darkness by the powers that were — is a great untold story of the war on terrorism." More Klein: "When, in a recent conversation, I noted that he seemed gleefully outspoken these days, Gates offered a twinkly smile and said, ‘What are they going to do, fire me?’" Speaking of Gates, he’s not too wound-up about North Korea’s recent tests of a long-range missile and a nuclear weapon. "I don’t think that anybody in the administration thinks there is a crisis," Gates said. "What we do have, though, are two new developments that are very provocative, that are aggressive, accompanied by very aggressive rhetoric." "I do not think there is a need for us to reinforce our military presence in the South," Gates told reporters aboard his plane en route to a security conference in Singapore. "Whatever responses there are have to be multilateral." Kicker: "Politically she’s like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die."
   - Peggy Noonan on Sonia Sotomayor Today on "Top Line," ABCNews.com’s daily political Webcast: ABC News’ Jan Crawford Greenburg and George Stephanopoulos. Noon ET.
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