White House: Obama Won’t Make Cautious Court Pick Because GOP Will Oppose Whoever He Nominates

April 20, 2010 7:14 a.m.

President Obama thinks Republicans will engage in a full battle over his Supreme Court nominee regardless of the person’s ideological leanings, and in some ways “that realization is liberating for the president” to choose whomever he pleases, an administration official told TPMDC.

In comments that are at odds with the conventional wisdom about what Obama needs to do to make sure the Senate confirms his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens, a White House official involved in the confirmation process tells TPMDC that the President isn’t taking a cautious approach to selecting a nominee. Despite having one less Democrat in the Senate than when Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed last year, the administration isn’t limiting itself to reviewing only centrist candidates for the court vacancy, the official said.

“It doesn’t matter who he chooses, there is going to be a big ‘ol fight over it. So he doesn’t have to get sidetracked by those sorts of concerns,” the official told me. The GOP has attempted to obstruct “anything of consequence” put forth by the Obama administration since he took office, the official said. “The president is making this decision with a pretty clear view that whoever he chooses is going to provoke a strong reaction on the right,” the official added.

The White House seems confident that because Democrats allowed votes on President George W. Bush’s nominees, the 41 Senate Republicans won’t stand in the way with the highly unusual judicial filibuster this year. After all, nine GOPers voted in favor of Sotomayor last summer in a relatively smooth fight for the president’s first Supreme Court nominee. But this is a different year. Obama isn’t just down one Democrat in the Senate, he’s facing a frustrated electorate, a polarized nation and looming midterm elections that have Democrats from both chambers on the ropes.The administration official told me that even though Obama believes the Republicans will make it a bitter fight all summer, he’ll still attempt to reach out to ranking Judiciary Committee member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and others for their input.

The first sense of where Obama is headed with his choice will come tomorrow when he speaks with Democratic and Republican Senate leaders he’s summoned to the White House to discuss the vacancy. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday that Obama will ask them for names they are interested in seeing on his long list of possibilities. Obama also will urge them to follow a timeline that he believes is “doable” for confirming his pick before the Senate adjourns in August.

The administration official said Obama remains “very early in this process” since the nuclear summit with world leaders commanded much of his attention last week. But, the official said, Obama can “pick up where he left off” in last year’s selection process.

Case in point: Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch group told me in an interview that all of the names on Obama’s so-called short list so far are unacceptable and seem to be reliable liberal votes.

Fitton’s theory is that progressive groups bemoaning the potential shift in the court makeup are doing so in a “strategic” fashion. “Most progressives will be perfectly happy with who he nominates,” Fitton said.

Fitton also thinks that Obama is walking on dangerous ground when it comes to the filibuster — and said the president took a “very radical” approach to health care.

“If he approaches the judicial pick like he approached health care he can expect a filibuster,” Fitton said.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal People for the American Way, told me in an interview that her group hopes Obama chooses someone who can “act for the common good” and that progressives have privately been suggesting names to the White House.

“It’s a bigger conversation than ideology, however,” Baker said. “This is an opportunity for our country to have a very very profound conversation about not just what the court is about but what our country is about.”

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