Fool me once ...

As Democrats consider their strategy on John Roberts, anonymous Republican sources say that Bush is looking to pick a woman the next time around. We've heard that one before.

Published September 20, 2005 2:00PM (EDT)

Senate Democrats meet today to discuss their strategy on the John G. Roberts nomination. Knowing that the man will probably have a seat on the Supreme Court no matter what they do, the Democrats have to weigh the value of a largely symbolic "no" vote against the risk of being branded reflexively obstructionist if they vote against Roberts' confirmation and then vote "no" again on the president's next pick.

And just in time for today's meeting, some "Republican allies" and "Republican strategists" are spinning a story that seems designed to make Democrats more comfortable about a vote in favor of Roberts. These unnamed sources tell the New York Times that George W. Bush is serious about picking a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, and that -- in recognition of the frustration arising out of Roberts' answer-lite confirmation hearings -- the president is looking to nominate someone who might be a little more palatable to Democrats than his previous possible nominees.

That means goodbye to Janice Rogers Brown, the sources say. The former California Supreme Court justice, recently confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, might lose her cool when forced to respond to questions about her "fiery speeches to conservative crowds," the Times says. And maybe Priscilla Owen has the opposite -- but similarly disqualifying -- problem: She'd be too meek to respond effectively to questions about her own antiabortion judicial record.

So who's on the shortlist now? The Times suggests that Owen still has a shot. Others are said to include federal appellate Judges Edith Jones, Edith Brown Clement, Alice Batchelder, Karen Williams and Consuelo M. Callahan.

Before Democrats rely on the story as a source of comfort in voting for Roberts, they might want to remember a couple of things from the last time around. Before Bush named Roberts as O'Connor's replacement, sources close to the president, including his wife, suggested that he was likely to name a woman instead. So we've heard the it's-a-woman story before. And on the very day that Bush named Roberts, unnamed Republican strategists -- the same ones who are now spinning for the Times? -- were telling anyone who'd listen that Bush had chosen Clement.

Are they telling the truth this time? Maybe they are and maybe they aren't. But before Democrats go voting for Roberts based on promises about what Bush might do, they ought to keep in mind something the president himself once said: "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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