The Note, 5/28/2009: Supreme Confidence–Rumblings on the left, but White House isn’t shaking

By Gorman Gorman

May 28, 2009 8:22am

By RICK KLEIN How about bottling some of that SCOTUS magic? One thing to remember about the stellar White House rollout of Judge Sonia Sotomayor: It’s easier to define the terms of a debate when no one else can really work up their own version. (And there’s too much invested in having a tussle — from the interest groups to the lawmakers to the media — for there not to be one.) As has become the norm in this administration, the Obama White House has one of its best messaging weeks when there’s no one else in Washington to offer coherent, consistent messaging of their own. Congressional breaks are more predictable — but those good times don’t last forever. (There’s always healthcare, energy, the economy, the stimulus — and, Thursday, even some Middle East peace to bring the White House back to the sometimes-scorched earth.) This confidence comes from somewhere — and has to go somewhere, too: "I would put these four months against the four months of any prior administration since FDR," President Obama told a star-studded crowd in Beverly Hills Wednesday night, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller. "When you look at the economy right now, I think it’s safe to say that we have stepped back from the brink." Stepping over to Sotomayor, a couple of quotes and YouTube clips — even with the help of Newt Gingrich’s Twitter account — won’t change the Senate math. But this will be interesting, distracting, and amusing — and important, for Democrats and Republicans. "Republicans won’t try to filibuster Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination, a key GOP senator conceded Wednesday, all but admitting there’s little chance of blocking her confirmation as the first Hispanic justice. But senators and advocacy groups are still girding for this summer’s battle — partly with an eye toward raising money and perhaps preparing for Barack Obama’s next nominee," the AP’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis writes. And while the right figures it out, the left sweats it out (it is, of course, the Souter seat): "President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has provoked concern from abortion rights advocates, who say they have seen no evidence that she supports upholding Roe vs. Wade," David G. Savage and Peter Nicholas write in the Los Angeles times. "Unlike most finalists for the high court opening, Sotomayor has never ruled on the issue. And in her only abortion-related decision, she did not come down the way activists would have liked." "Some abortion rights advocates are quietly expressing unease that Judge Sotomayor may not be a reliable vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision," Charlie Savage writes in The New York Times. "In a letter, Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, urged supporters to press senators to demand that Judge Sotomayor reveal her views on privacy rights before any confirmation vote." "Some liberal legal groups are raising questions about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, citing her relatively moderate judicial record and her skimpy paper trail on crucial issues like abortion, gay marriage and the death penalty," Politico’s Lisa Lerer reports. She is "the most conservative choice that President Obama could have made," E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post column. "Liberals should not take the bait of the right-wingers by allowing the debate over Sotomayor to be premised on the idea that she is a bold ideological choice. She’s not. But if conservatives succeed in painting this moderate as a radical, they will skew future arguments over the court." Follow the money: "For now, supporters appear to be better funded and better organized," Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid report in The Wall Street Journal. "That’s how the public relations campaign began over President Obama’s historic nomination of the Hispanic appellate judge — with liberals able to spend freely on network and cable TV and conservatives limited to the less expensive Internet," USA Today’s Richard Wolf reports. Doing their best to keep this boring: "In the months leading up to Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s selection this week, the White House methodically labored to apply lessons from years of nomination battles to control the process and avoid the pitfalls of the past, like appearing to respond to pressure from the party’s base or allowing candidates to be chewed up by friendly fire," Peter Baker and Adam Nagourney write in The New York Times. "The White House enlisted lawyers and constitutional experts to say that in Sotomayor’s 17 years on the federal bench, she has been a cautious jurist who respects precedent," Robert Barnes reports in The Washington Post. "But conservative legal groups countered that her remarks in speeches and symposiums bolster their claims that she is a liberal activist waiting to flower on the high court. . . . More is at stake for conservative activists than Sotomayor’s confirmation. Some say privately that the larger goal is portraying Obama as having abandoned the moderate persona of the campaign for a liberal governing style as president." "[Some] conservative activists see lines of attack that would make a filibuster unnecessary: They aim to paint a portrait of Sotomayor to make conservative Democrats squirm, eroding support from within Obama’s party," the Los Angeles Times’ Janet Hook writes.  Then there’s Newt, on Twitter and his blog: "Imagine a judicial nominee said ‘my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman,’ " former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., blogged Wednesday, per ABC’s Jake Tapper. "Wouldn’t they have to withdraw? New racism is no better than old racism. A white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw." (Will this be the marking point for 2012ers?) White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, on the 32 words that have Newt upset: "I think — I — I have confidence in Americans reading not just part of, but the whole statement," Gibbs said, per The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. Karl Rove adds rhetorical fuel: " ‘Empathy’ is the latest code word for liberal activism, for treating the Constitution as malleable clay to be kneaded and molded in whatever form justices want," he writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "There is a certain irony in a president who routinely praises America’s commitment to ‘the rule of law’ but who picks Supreme Court nominees for their readiness to discard the rule of law whenever emotion moves them." (Irony?) More Rove: "Democrats will win the vote, but Republicans can win the argument by making a clear case against the judicial activism she represents." The president arrives back in Washington in time for a 4 pm ET meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office. The context: "President Barack Obama has made it clear to Israel he wants no ‘natural growth exceptions’ to his call for a freeze in West Bank settlements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday," per AFP’s Lachlan Carmichael. "Her remarks about settlements during a visit by Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit of Egypt, a key mediator in peace talks, were the most explicit yet since Obama came to office in January." A new line of attack from former Vice President Dick Cheney: "I think the budgets he submitted are way out of whack," Cheney told CNBC’s Larry Kudlow in an interview. "I think what it does not only to the short-term deficit but long-term debt situation is very objectionable." ABC’s Matt Jaffe points out: "The Bush regime inherited a $127 billion budget surplus, but set five record-high budget deficits in seven years and left office with the national debt over $10 trillion. According to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Cheney once told him during a cabinet meeting, ‘Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.’ " National Security Adviser Jim Jones fires back at Cheney: "In my view, I firmly believe that the United States is not only safe but it will be more secure and the American people are increasingly safer because of the president’s leadership that he has displayed consistently over the last four months, both at home and abroad," Jones said in a speech at the Atlantic Council, per ABC’s Luis Martinez. Time’s Joe Klein interviews Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "The things we’ve cut . . . wouldn’t have been in the budget even if we had $50 billion more to spend," Gates tells Klein. 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?’ " Defending the stimulus, now 101 days since it became law: "Obama’s aides had mocked reporters for making a fuss over his first 100 days in office. But the president was eager to assess the first 100 days of the stimulus package. He gave it high marks," the AP’s Chuck Babington writes. "The White House job claims are difficult to verify because they are based on estimates of how bad the economy might have been without the stimulus rather than actual employment data. The country has lost 1.3 million jobs since February, a figure the Obama administration says would have been far higher if not for the recovery effort." " ‘Only a small part’ of the nation’s $787 billion economic stimulus had been spent through the end of last month, according to congressional analysts, despite the Obama administration’s boasts Wednesday that the plan is a big success," McClatchy’s David Lightman reports. "States hit hardest by the recession received only a few of the government’s first stimulus contracts, even though the glut of new federal spending was meant to target places where the economic pain has been particularly severe," USA Today’s Brad Heath reports. "Nationwide, federal agencies have awarded nearly $4 billion in contracts to help jump-start the economy since President Obama signed the massive stimulus package in February. But, with few exceptions, that money has not reached states where the unemployment rate is highest, according to a USA TODAY review of contracts disclosed through the Federal Procurement Data System." Looking through the White House glass: "The fact that the unemployment rate is going up or the fact that we are losing jobs, again, should not be taken as evidence that the plan is ineffective," Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden’s economic adviser, tells Reuters’ Lisa Lambert. Rocking the banking world: "Top Obama administration officials are close to recommending that Congress create a single regulator to oversee the entire banking sector, people familiar with the matter said, a departure from the hodgepodge of federal agencies that failed to contain the financial crisis as it ballooned out of control last year," Damian Paletta reports in The Wall Street Journal. "The new agency is expected to be a major plank in a proposal that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House officials send Capitol Hill in a few weeks with the goal of overhauling supervision of financial markets." A cap-and-trade trade-off: "Confronted by Democratic majorities, a Democratic president, and a voting public furious over Wall Street lapses, the business community, which once adamantly opposed almost all forms of government regulation and mandates, has opted to join rather than fight," Susan Milligan reports in The Boston Globe. Getting it done on the Hill: "White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel starts many mornings with a workout in the U.S. House of Representatives gym. He also lifts weights," Bloomberg’s Hans Nicholas writes. "The real exercise is gathering political intelligence from his one-time colleagues about congressional action on health-care and energy legislation." Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., makes the case on healthcare — in the first person: "Over the last year, I’ve seen our healthcare system up close. I’ve benefitted from the best of medicine, but I’ve also witnessed the frustration and outrage of patients and doctors alike as they face the challenges of a system that shortchanges millions of Americans," he writes in a Boston Globe op-ed. "We have the greatest doctors and medical innovations in the world, but more and more Americans are on the outside looking in to a world of progress and discovery that is denied to them because they cannot afford quality healthcare. That’s wrong — and it’s about to change." Coming Monday:  Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., speaks to the Heritage Foundation on missile defense and proposed Pentagon cuts. From the release going out Thursday: "In this timely policy speech, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney warns against proposed defense cuts that will increase our vulnerability, imperil our allies and diminish the cause of freedom. In making the case for a stronger military, Romney will review current threats to American leadership and the challenges ahead." The slow, not-pretty undoing of Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill.: "Beleaguered U.S. Sen. Roland Burris added another layer Wednesday to the evolving story of his appointment, saying he was only trying to ‘placate’ then- Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother to keep his Senate prospects alive knowing no campaign money would ever change hands," the Chicago Tribune’s Ashley Rueff, Rick Pearson and Jeff Coen report. "The latest detail came as Burris spent the opening of a two-day Downstate tour offering his explanation of what was on covert recordings made by federal agents investigating Blagojevich in November. Burris said the transcript shows that he was not involved in ‘pay to play’ because he told Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s brother, that if he donated and got the Senate appointment, ‘that means I bought it.’ " Chris Matthews with the take-down, per the Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., got to hang with the big boys in Los Angeles, for the party fundraiser Wednesday night. And it looks like he’ll need at least some of that party cash for a primary: "Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) is privately telling supporters that he intends to run for Senate, TPMDC has confirmed," Brian Beutler reports for Talking Points Memo. "Personally, I do intend to get in, but we make the decision as a family. This is a deployment," Sestak, a retired Navy rear admiral, tells the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Thomas Fitzgerald. "We have not made a final decision. . . . I intend to try to do this in a thoughtful, deliberate way." Some early weekend reading: Peter Baker does The New York Times Magazine profile of Bill Clinton — now, as Clinton himself points out, an ex-president longer than he was president. A delicious little story about those South Carolina comments: "None of them ever really took seriously the race rap," Clinton tells the Times. "They knew it was politics," he says. Clinton tells about a minister who he met in Texas, during the general election. The minister supported Obama. "And he came up, threw his arm around me and said, ‘You’ve got to forgive us for that race deal.’ He said, ‘That was out of line.’ But he said, ‘You know, we wanted to win real bad.’ And I said, ‘I got no problem with that.’ " Plus, Baker reports, Clinton is still smarting from the defections of Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., and Ted and Caroline Kennedy. (Surprised?) The Kicker: "What am I going to tell the president when I tell him his Teleprompter is broken? What will he do then?" — Vice President Joe Biden, when the Teleprompter blew over at his graduation speech at the Air Force Academy, in a joke that cuts a few different ways. "The only bad thing about Hillary’s being secretary of state is I can’t always get hold of her." — Former President Bill Clinton. Today on "Top Line,"’s daily political Webcast: Jared Bernstein, chief economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden; and Politico’s Jonathan Martin. Noon ET. Follow The Note on Twitter: For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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