by Jonathan Singer, Tue Jan 12, 2010 at 04:15:59 PM EST
Competitive primaries can have positive effects.
Nominees for the U.S. Department of Justice are rarely high-profile enough to warrant attention in an election. Not so in this year's Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania.
Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination, sent an e-mail to supporters today about Dawn Johnsen. Johnsen, an Indiana University at Bloomington law professor, is President Barack Obama’s pick to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and last year Specter helped delay Johnsen’s nomination. Specter was the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.
Republicans, including Specter at the time, have criticized Johnsen for her writings about abortion and civil liberties, and her stalled nomination has become a leading cause for advocates of abortion rights. Johnsen’s supporters say they might have enough votes for confirmation if the Senate’s Democratic leaders decide to take the time to break the GOP filibuster.
Just a few hours after being challenged by Congressman Sestak, his opponent in the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania, Republican-turned-Democratic Senator Arlen Specter responded:
A statement from Specter's office: “After voting 'pass' (which means no position) in the Judiciary Committee, I had a second extensive meeting with Ms. Johnsen and have been prepared to support her nomination when it reaches the Senate floor.”
With Republican Richard Lugar, Johnsen's home state Senator, already committed to backing her nomination (update: and confirming his support), it appears that Johnsen should now have sufficient support to make it through the Senate (even with conservative Democratic Senator Ben Nelson in opposition). The special election in Massachusetts could potentially alter this math, but if the Democratic caucus remains at 60, and both Lugar and Ben Nelson vote as expected, a filibuster could not be sustained.
Indeed, once her nomination hits the 60-vote mark, I would expect it to get more support than that on a cloture vote as Senators like Judd Gregg, Lamar Alexander and Orrin Hatch -- Republicans who tend to vote for cloture on nominees even if they eventually vote no on the final vote (as they did in the case of the nomination of Harold Koh as legal advisor to the State Department) -- jump on board.