By Al Kamen
Monday, June 22, 2009
Let's face it: Barring some sensational disclosures, maybe a couple of felonies, there was never going to be much of a Senate battle over the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
But we sure didn't need former appeals court judge, solicitor general and law school dean Kenneth Starr's gratuitous endorsement of her nomination last week. Starr, a conservative icon for his role as special prosecutor in the Monica Lewinsky affair, said he "thinks very well" of Sotomayor and "supports her nomination" -- pretty much killing any remaining suspense.
In a statement issued by Pepperdine law school, Starr said he still wanted "a variety of issues" explored at her hearings next month.
So it's time to gin up a little excitement with the In the Loop Guess the Vote Contest. Simply guess the number of "yea" votes Sotomayor will receive for confirmation. The first 10 entrants with the correct number will win a coveted In the Loop T-shirt. The tiebreaker question, should that become necessary, will be to guess the date of the full Senate's vote on the nomination.
We had thought of asking for both the yeas and nays, but cooler heads said that would be too difficult to predict, because at least a couple of members might be too ill to vote. And you never know whether someone's going to get caught cheating on his wife and be unable to make it back to vote in time.
For guidance, depending on how the hearings go, there's been a predictable range in recent years on Supreme Court votes. For example, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. got 78 votes from a GOP-controlled Senate. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., on pretty much a straight party-line vote, got 58.
The only interesting question left is how many GOP votes Sotomayor will pick up. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), for example, declined to even meet with her last week, his spokesman saying Inhofe's mind was made up to vote against her because he had done so in 1998, when she was named to the appeals court, and because of her "deference to international laws instead of the U.S. Constitution."
But other Republicans are up for grabs. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's facing a tough gubernatorial primary next year against the incumbent Republican governor (or president, if Texas secedes), Rick Perry, might ponder the implications of her vote in a state where Latinos make up about 20 percent of the vote and African Americans around 10 percent.
So how many senators will vote for Sotomayor? And on what day? Send your prediction -- only one per entrant -- to firstname.lastname@example.org or In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
Winners will receive one of those fabulous Loop T-shirts and the bragging rights that go with them. Get those votes in quickly: The deadline is the close of the day, as in midnight, on Wednesday.BABY STEPS ON DIVERSITY
A National Journal study of 366 top Obama administration officials has found that 52 percent are white males, down from 59 percent at this point in President George W. Bush's first term. Eleven percent of those officials are African Americans, compared with 10 percent under Bush. The Journal assessment, out today, said 8 percent of Obama's top folks are Hispanic, compared with 6 percent for Bush. Asian Americans totaled 4 percent of Obama's team and 3 percent of Bush's, according to the Journal.
Overall, given the demographics of the Obama vote, the percentages don't differ all that much between the two administrations, at least so far. The study also found that 83 percent of Obama's officials had government experience, and 71 percent at the federal level -- figures in the same range as Bush's picks.
The study will be available online this morning after 8:30 at http://www.nationaljournal.com/decisionmakers.LONG-RANGE CONCERNS
Administration officials made it clear last week that they were prepared should the wacky North Koreans go ahead with a reported test of long-range missiles, perhaps to coincide with the Fourth of July.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday that the Obama administration was quite concerned about the possibility of North Korea firing off more missiles.
"We're obviously watching the situation in the North with respect to missile launches very closely, and we do have some concerns if they were to launch a missile to the west in the direction of Hawaii," Gates said, according to the Associated Press and Reuters.
Well, if that missile heads west from North Korea, best we can figure, we won't be nearly as concerned as the Chinese or the Russians. They'll be at Defcon 1.JUST OFFAL
Theme-food-and-drink fundraisers have been all the rage in recent months as lawmakers hit up lobbyists for contributions. On June 10, Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Tex.) had a "Music and Margaritas" fundraiser on the Hill, only $1,000 per PAC. The next day, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) did his usual "Lobster Bake." Lobsters costing what they do, this was $5,000 to host, $2,500 to sponsor. On Wednesday, Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.) will be doing an "Eastern Shore Crab Feast," with the same $5,000 to host. (As a handy reminder, many invites list the incumbent's committees.)
But the best is the fundraiser for Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R), the former governor who's running for the Senate. It's the "Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed and Steak BBQ" at the Dollar Mountain Lodge in Sun Valley. That one's a very sensibly priced $1,000 per PAC and $250 per person.
Having had these "oysters" -- they were sometimes on the menu years ago at one fine restaurant in Ordway, Colo. -- we strongly recommend the steak or the vegan option. The oyster experience can stay with you for days.