Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Pressure from liberal activists to oppose confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court has been so intense that Democratic senators may be trapped into a filibuster that they do not want to wage.
Despite the consensus that Alito performed well in his confirmation hearings, leaders of liberal organizations opposing him -- Ralph Neas, Nan Aron and Wade Henderson -- demand that Democrats vote against him. Consequently, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska is the only Democrat at this writing who has announced in Alito's favor.

That means the number of senators voting "no" will be well over the 41 needed to prevent cloture. Pressure groups then could ask why no filibuster had been launched. But Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid may not want to risk causing Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist to set a precedent by using the "nuclear" option: to end a filibuster by simple majority vote.


Sen. Trent Lott decided to seek a fourth term from Mississippi after two post-Christmas telephone calls from President Bush pleading with him to run.

Vice President Dick Cheney also made a late appeal for Lott to reverse his earlier decision to retire. The irony is that the president and his administration gave Lott no support when he was forced to step down as majority leader three years ago on charges of racism.

Lott has publicly declared he decided not to retire because his constituents needed him in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But he also was influenced by the probability that if he did not run, he would have been succeeded by a Democrat -- former State Atty. Gen. Mike Moore -- in a major erosion of the Republican Party's Southern base.


The House Republican consensus is that Rep. John Shadegg helped his long shot candidacy for majority leader by resigning as chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee before seeking the top spot.

Supporters of Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, front-runner to be Rep. Tom DeLay's permanent replacement, say Shadegg blundered by giving up a leadership post to which he was elected a year ago. Blunt did not quit his majority whip position as he sought to be majority leader. However, well-placed Republicans in the House judged that Shadegg dramatized the seriousness of his candidacy.

A footnote: Although members of Congress are notorious for privately endorsing rival candidates in party leadership contests, Rep. John Sullivan of Oklahoma broke new ground with dual public endorsements. Sullivan put his name on lists of two candidates for Policy Committee chairman: Adam Putnam of Florida and Thad McCotter of Michigan.


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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