"No Surprise Obama" picks Elena Kagan for Supreme Court… Formal announcement comes at 10:00 am ET… Breaking down the 11 Republicans who could vote for her… One person who VOTED AGAINST Kagan in '09 -- Arlen Specter, and we might hear about that from Joe Sestak… Kagan's days at Harvard sound a lot like Obama's days at Harvard… The pros and cons of the Kagan pick… Bob Bennett defeated in Utah… Could Mitch McConnell go 0-3 (if Rand Paul wins in KY next week)?... And Mason-Dixon poll has Blanche Lincoln leading Bill Halter by 12 points.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** No Surprise Obama: Move over "No Drama Obama." Is it now time for "No Surprise Obama"? President Obama's selection of U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan to serve on the Supreme Court, which was first reported by NBC's Pete Williams last night, is at least the third time Obama has unsurprisingly picked the overwhelming front-runner -- joining his pick of Joe Biden as his VP in '08 and his SCOTUS selection of Sonia Sotomayor in '09. (Contrast those picks with Bush's surprising selections of Dick Cheney and Harriet Miers, as well as John McCain's incredibly surprising choice of Palin as his VP pick.) Obama and his team usually telegraph their selections, allowing the media, interest groups, and even the opposition to kick the tires. The only one big Obama surprise on the nomination front? Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. Even on policy, when a shift is coming (say on the public option), this White House telegraphs like they did on these picks. The president will formally announce Kagan as his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court at 10:00 am ET from the White House's East Room.
*** These go to eleven: Politically, Obama may very well have chosen Kagan -- instead of, say, Diane Wood -- to avoid a drawn-out confirmation war, especially with the midterm elections less than six months from now. Seven Senate Republicans voted for her confirmation as solicitor general in 2009: Coburn (OK), Collins (ME), Gregg (NH), Hatch (UT), Kyl (AZ), Lugar (IN), Snowe (ME). When you add those seven to another four current Republicans who voted for Sotomayor -- Alexander (TN), Bond (MO), Graham (SC), and Voinovich (OH) -- you have your universe of potential GOP votes for Kagan's SCOTUS confirmation. *** UPDATE *** And it's 12 Republicans if you include Sen. Scott Brown. Yet because Kagan is confirmable, the complaint we might begin hearing from the left in the coming days is how Obama GOES OUT OF HIS WAY to avoid fights, often disappointing liberals in the process (see: option, public).
*** Sestak's big gift: Interestingly, there is one Democrat who voted against Kagan's confirmation as solicitor general: Arlen Specter, who at the time was still a Republican. And with just a week before Specter's Democratic primary against Joe Sestak, the Kagan pick couldn't have come at a worse time for Specter. (Think of how easy it will be for Sestak to charge that Specter voted AGAINST President Obama's SCOTUS nominee.) By the way, Sestak is now leading Specter by five points in the latest Muhlenberg tracking poll. And what's most distressing for Specter is how his numbers really just aren't moving; he's been stuck in the low-to-mid 40s (in private polling as well) for months. Remember, diehard Democrats have been voting against Specter even when he was getting 60% support in campaigns.
*** Kagan and Obama: From the get-go, Obama wanted to pick someone he believes would serve as a counterweight to Chief Justice John Roberts, which explains why the finalists (Garland, Thomas, and Wood) were all folks the president viewed as intellectual heavyweights. Both Kagan and Garland moved quickly to the top of the list because they already had experience -- both personally and professionally -- with many of the current justices. And that's something that the president himself believes is extremely important to persuade others, like swing vote Anthony Kennedy. The personal connection is big with this president. In fact, check out many of the pro-talking points about Kagan from the White House: They sound like the early talking points about candidate Obama when someone was trying to make the case he wasn't going to be your typical doctrinaire liberal. Indeed, it's a tad spooky some of the anecdotes about Kagan and conservatives at Harvard are very similar to the anecdotes we heard about Obama and conservatives during his Harvard Law days.
*** Pros of the Kagan pick: In addition to what we've written above, Kagan knows the president fairly well, though they aren't personally close (while at the University of Chicago, she tried to recruit Obama, then a part-time lecturer in constitutional law, to a full-time job in academia)… A woman, she would be the court's third current female (and fourth overall), which would be a record… At age 50, she was one of the younger Supreme Court possibilities for Obama… And she brings professional diversity to the court: if confirmed, she'd be the first non-judge to be elevated to the court since 1972.
*** Cons of the Kagan pick: Some liberals think that Kagan would move the Supreme Court to the right (compared with Stevens)… They argue that she -- a la Harriet Miers -- has a tiny paper trail, so they believe it's inconclusive if she's as liberal as other possible Obama picks… Liberal critics also cite Kagan's past statements that suggest she believes in strong executive-branch powers… Meanwhile, conservatives point to this: While at Harvard, she filed a friend of the court brief opposing the Solomon Amendment, which required universities that receive federal funding to be cooperative with military recruiters. Kagan contended that the military's ban on gays broke the law school's anti-discrimination policy against gays. Once the 3rd Circuit ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional, Kagan instructed Harvard Law's Office of Career Services to stop helping military recruiters. But she reversed course when the Supreme Court overturned the 3rd Circuit's decision. Still, she urged students to protest the recruiters.
*** Bennett defeated: While all today's attention is on Kagan, there's another political story that's nearly as compelling -- Sen. Bob Bennett's (R) defeat at Saturday's GOP convention in Utah. For the third time in a year, Republicans essentially sent a message that one of their elected officials wasn't conservative enough for the party's nomination. But what does it say about the size of the GOP's tent that there isn't room enough for Bennett, Arlen Specter, and Charlie Crist? (We'll find out next week if there's room enough in the Dem tent for Blanche Lincoln.) What does it say for democracy when only 3,500 Utah delegates decided Bennett's fate? (Bennett, according to polls, fared much better among primary voters than these delegates.) And what kind of message does Bennett's defeat send to other GOP officials? (Who will be the next Republican who will want to team up with a Ron Wyden or any other Democrat for that matter?) Translation: Don't be surprised if Lindsey Graham is a no-show later this week when Kerry-Lieberman roll out the energy/climate bill.
*** DeMint 3, McConnell 0? And if Rand Paul ends up defeating Trey Grayson in next week's GOP Senate primary in Kentucky, it would be the third Mitch McConnell-backed Senate Republican to lose this cycle or leave the party. (Bennett and Charlie Crist are the others.). DeMint never endorsed anyone in Utah, but made it clear he decided not to get involved because Bennett was an incumbent so DeMint PUBLICLY was neutral.
*** Things looking brighter for the global economy? "Global markets rallied Monday, reversing the steep declines of recent days, after European leaders agreed to provide a huge rescue package of nearly $1 trillion to combat the debt crisis that has engulfed Europe, and central banks began injecting cash into the financial system," the New York Times reports. Call it Europe's TARP….
*** Super Senate Tuesday: In Arkansas, a Mason-Dixon poll finds Blanche Lincoln leading Bill Halter, 44%-32% (In primaries with incumbents, their number matters A LOT more than the challenger in these polls)... After toppling Bennett in Utah, Tea Party activists are now turning their attention to the Paul-Grayson race in Kentucky, the AP says… And in the Pennsylvania special congressional election to replace Jack Murtha, Democrat Mark Critz "is headed into the final 12 days of the campaign with a serious cash disadvantage," CQ writes, with businessman Tim Burns, the Republican nominee, besting Critz's $73,000 cash on hand by more than four times with $308,000 in the bank.
*** More midterm news: In Arizona, a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll has McCain leading Hayworth, 48%-36%... Also in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is up with a Web video taking umbrage at President Obama's White House Correspondents' Dinner joke about the immigration law in the state… In Florida, pollster Brad Coker, who conducted the latest Mason-Dixon poll on the Senate race there, says that Gov. Charlie Crist's current lead (38% to Marco Rubio's 32% and Kendrick Meek's 19%) is a "proverbial house of cards," the Miami Herald writes… And in South Carolina, the state's Club for Growth chapter, which had been a key ally for Gov. Mark Sanford, endorsed state Rep. Nikki Haley for governor, The State reports.
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 1 day
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries, and PA-12 special: 8 days
Countdown to HI special election: 12 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 176 days