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Whip Count: Do Republicans Have the Votes to Defeat Liu Nomination?

The Senate will vote on President Obama's radical nominee to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at approximately 2 pm this afternoon. Goodwin Liu is an established left-wing activist whose "well qualified" rating by the American Bar Association is a real head-scratcher, especially considering the ABA's typical ratings criteria.   Senate Democrats need the support of all 53 of their members, and at least seven Republicans, to invoke cloture on this nomination -- which would all but guarantee Liu's confirmation.  But at this hour, the math is looking pretty bleak for Harry Reid.


Assuming every single Democrat will (a) show up to vote, and (b) vote 'yes' on cloture, Reid & Co. will pin their hopes on securing seven crossover votes from the GOP caucus.  Their best hopes, in all likelihood, are the 11 Republicans who broke ranks with their party earlier this month by voting for cloture on the nomination to Jack McConnell to become a US District Judge in Rhode Island.  (McConnell was viewed by many as anti-business, a strong ally of the trial lawyers' lobby, and had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats over the years).  The 11 GOP defectors on that cloture vote were:

Lamar Alexander
Scott Brown
Saxby Chambliss
Susan Collins
Lindsey Graham
Johnny Isakson
Mark Kirk
John McCain
Lisa Murkowski
Olympia Snowe
John Thune

As I reported in my previous post, three of these Senators (Graham, Kirk, and McCain) have already vowed to oppose cloture on Liu.  That means Democrats need to win over seven of the eight remaining Republicans on the list above.  Based on public statements and private conversations with senior GOP aides, this will not happen.  Based solely on quotes buried in this Washington Post story, it appears Republicans have the votes to block Liu:

Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) said that he considered this nomination an “extraordinary circumstance” that allowed for a filibuster, citing Liu’s “judicial temperament.” Sen. John Thune (S.D.) cited “extreme circumstances” as he remained undecided on whether to back the filibuster, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) flatly rejected the nomination. “I don’t think he’s qualified,” Chambliss said.


If Isakson and Chambliss are out, that puts Republicans at exactly 41 'no' votes -- enough to sustain a filibuster.  Reading between the lines ("extreme circumstances" is a major tell), it appears that Thune is also preparing to oppose cloture.  I would also be surprised if Sen. Alexander sides with Democrats on this one -- I've reached out to his office seeking guidance on how he may vote.

Summarizing:  My unofficial whipcount, based on information from Capitol Hill sources and various media accounts, suggests that the Goodwin Liu nomination will be blocked this afternoon.  Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, who's obviously in a much better position to predict today's outcome than I am, also sounds upbeat.  His assessment on The Laura Ingraham Show:

“This is a very bad nominee. He testified against both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito in the most strident of terms. That vote will occur after lunch today. I’m optimistic that we will be able to defeat the nomination.”

I hear that Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Chuck Grassley is equally optimistic.  We'll know soon enough -- the vote is expected within the hour.

UPDATE - A Republican aide has provided me with the following statement on Sen. Alexander's position:

In the case of Court of Appeals judges or Supreme Court justices, [Sen. Alexander] reserves the right to vote against allowing an up or down vote in an extraordinary case, and he considers this to be an extraordinary case.


Based on this information, I'll update my whip count projection:  Republicans have 41 solid "no" votes, plus two lean no's (Thune and Alexander).  Liu is cooked.

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