A Democrat defects on Alito

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson says he'll take the nominee at his word when he says he has no agenda.

Published January 18, 2006 2:00PM (EST)

George W. Bush loves to trot out a Democrat -- or a dead Democrat or a pseudo-Democrat or a former Democrat or whatever -- whenever he can find one who seems to agrees with him. Remember how Bush kept bringing up Joe Lieberman on the subject of Iraq last month? How he invoked the names of Bill Clinton, John Breaux, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and even FDR as he pushed for the privatization of Social Security last year? How the Bush-Cheney campaign rolled out the ever-so-slightly unhinged Zell Miller again and again during the 2004 presidential race?

Ben Nelson, prepare for your day in the sun.

The junior senator from Nebraska has just become the first Democrat to say that he'll vote to confirm Samuel Alito to a seat on the Supreme Court. "I came to this decision after careful consideration of his impeccable judicial credentials, the American Bar Associations strong recommendation and his pledge that he would not bring a political agenda to the court," Nelson said in a statement issued by his office.

Nelson knows that Alito won't bring a political agenda to the court -- all signs in his record notwithstanding -- because, well, because Alito said he wouldn't bring a political agenda to the court. "I have to take him at his word at the moment," Nelson said in an interview with Fox News.

Maybe it's worth mentioning at this point that both Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas assured senators during their confirmation hearings that they had "no agenda," either. But maybe it's also worth mentioning that to the extent that Scalia and Thomas and Alito have an agenda, it's one that Nelson probably likes: A self-described "pro-life" politician, Nelson has compiled a voting record during his six years in the Senate that puts him pretty much eye-to-eye with the religious right on the issue of abortion.

And maybe it's worth mentioning that Nelson is up for reelection this year, that he's running in a state that Bush carried by 33 points in 2004, and that it was clear that Nelson's Republican challenger -- whoever it ends up being -- would have used a vote against Alito as a reason for Nebraskans to vote against Nelson. Nelson, a member of the "Gang of 14" that helped scuttle the nuclear option last year, probably can't expect any campaign help from the commander in chief. But a "heck of a job, Benny" from the president now could pay some dividends for Nelson in Nebraska come November.

By Tim Grieve

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

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