Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ben Nelson's First Turncoat Stunt of 2006

Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) is already showing that his runaway victory as our 2005 Senate Weasel of the Year was no fluke by being the first Democrat to say he will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

"I came to this decision after careful consideration of his impeccable judicial credentials, the American Bar Association's strong recommendation and his pledge that he would not bring a political agenda to the Court,” said Nelson, in a statement explaining his decision.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote Tuesday on sending the Alito nomination to the full Senate for a vote and, with 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats on that panel, Alito will undoubtedly get the up-or-down vote President Bush has demanded.

Open Senate debate on the nomination will begin the following day and, with Nelson already turning and with apparently little chance of a filibuster, Bush's second gift to Corporate America – after John Roberts – is likely to be confirmed quickly.

Strangely enough, Nelson's press release goes on to brag that he has "... supported more than 215 of President Bush’s nominations to the Federal Bench, including Chief Justice John Roberts."

What an odd boast coming from one who claims to be a Democrat. But we saw this with Nelson throughout 2005 when he voted with the GOP on almost every major issue that came before the Senate.

A couple of points on Nelson: I'm from Nebraska and I want to put to rest this nonsense that a Republican-Lite Democrat is the best we can do in such a red state. Bob Kerrey, who was governor of Nebraska and held the Senate seat Nelson is wasting for two terms before retiring, was wildly popular in the Cornhusker state, despite being fairly liberal. So let's put that canard to sleep. Kerrey was a straight shooter with convictions and that made him OK with Nebraskans -- Nelson is not cut from the same cloth.

And Senator Max Baucus, of equally-red Montana, has no problem saying Alito is just not his kind of guy. "He's just not right for Montana, he's just not right for America," Baucus said yesterday.

Nelson also says he trusts Alito's pledge to "not bring a political agenda to the Court," which is just a dumb assertion. You need look no further back than Bush v. Gore in 2000 to see that this is an incredibly political Supreme Court and it is due precisely to a right-wing faction of that body that Bush is even president today. To suggest that Alito can be trusted on such a claim – even assuming he is totally sincere when he says it in confirmation hearings – is ludicrous.

Oh, and one more thing. If Nelson is the best we can do in Nebraska, I'm smart enough to realize that we need him (right now) for sheer numbers to get to that magic 51-seat majority and kicking his butt to the curb this year may not be the right move for Nebraska Democrats. The direction of the Senate and vital committee chairmanships are too important for us to prefer a Republican to him – even if Nelson is philosophically in bed with the GOP already.

But, when Democrats take back the Senate, the majority leader needs to see that Nelson gets the committee chairmanship he rightfully deserves: on the subcommittee for gutless sellouts.