WASHINGTON -- Max Baucus is already soaring up the enemies list for many progressives this summer, thanks to his negotiations with Republicans over healthcare reform. Bucking to demands by the GOP and by other conservative Democrats, the Montana Democrat appears to be ready to rip a government-funded public insurance option out of the reform bill as it passes through the Senate Finance Committee, which he chairs.
So a headline in Friday's issue of The Hill -- "Baucus: 'No idea' how he'll vote on Sotomayor" -- couldn't exactly have been the way Baucus wanted to begin his rehabilitation in the eyes of liberals.
"I have no idea" how he'll vote on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Baucus told the newspaper. "I haven't paid any attention and I haven't announced... I've been so busy with healthcare. It's under consideration. I'll certainly know when I vote, but right now I can't tell you."
The only reason there might even be any scintilla of doubt about whether a Democratic senator would vote for a judge nominated by a Democratic president is because the National Rifle Association, which gave Baucus an A rating in 2008, has come out against Sotomayor and says it will count the confirmation vote in its 2009 ratings. But that hasn't stopped six Republicans -- Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee; Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, of Maine; Richard Lugar, of Indiana; Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; and Mel Martinez, of Florida -- from saying they'll vote for Sotomayor. So for Baucus to oppose her would have been a provocative break with his own party -- and, given that Sotomayor appears to be heading for an easy confirmation, a pointless one.
By Friday morning, Baucus -- or his aides -- had apparently realized that crossing the NRA wouldn't be quite as dangerous to his future political prospects as being the only Democrat to cross Obama on the Sotomayor nomination would be. So his office put out a statement indicating that Baucus will, after all, vote to confirm her.
You can read the full statement here:
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, and the pinnacle of the judicial branch of our government. Being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice is a tremendous honor with enormous responsibility. I have long said that to be a Supreme Court Justice a person must meet three main criteria: personal integrity, professional competence, and a view of important issues that is within the mainstream of contemporary judicial thought. After personally meeting Judge Sotomayor, thoroughly analyzing her judicial record, and reviewing her nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Sotomayor unquestionably meets each of these criteria. Thus, I am proud to support her nomination and will vote to confirm her as a Justice to the United States Supreme Court.