leahy3.jpgLast week, I detailed a bit of the background information that I have heard on the Southwick nomination to the 5th Circuit, and the SJC vote that allowed the nomination out of committee.  After the piece went up here, I was contacted by no fewer than five sources — some on the Hill, some with contacts there — all of whom were telling me a very similar tale.

As in, I have several people who work in and around the Hill (Capitol Hill, not the paper), who have proved reliable with information in the past — all separately telling me the same story.  But none of them were willing to go on record for me.  If I’d heard it from one, or even two people, I’d wonder.  But from five separate people on five separate phone calls?  It’s a rumor, but a really pervasive and consistent one that I’ve been piecing together for a while.

I tell you this because we have to do better than this.  America needs strong, principled leadership.  And I think that a number of the people involved in this have it in them to give that to this country — they have simply not flexed those muscles enough in the last few years to remember that.  So consider this a nudge from a citizen who thinks that all of these folks have done amazing things in their lifetime and performed great service to their nation — who is simply asking that everyone on the Hill start putting the nation first instead of their own egos.  Please.

The story is this:  Pat Leahy got snookered by Arlen Specter, into delaying the vote on Southwick so that the GOP leadership could work on Dianne Feinstein by playing to her ego.  And Leahy fell for it — even though he had the votes to shut down the Southwick vote altogether back in July.

Why didn’t the SJC simply vote then, knowing that they could stop the Southwick nomination entirely?  No clue.  Really…no freaking clue.

Here’s how the behind-the-scenes blather goes:  Specter coaxed Leahy into a delay, a sort of gentleman’s agreement not to vote, and then the GOP started whining publicly about the delay they, themselves, had asked for…all the while using said delay to kiss up to Feinstein.  Word is that both Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell played to Di’s sense of “fairness and integrity,” and that Lott did so by asking DiFi to give Southwick a second look see interview.

When she did so, Southwick came in and turned on the Southern charming man wattage, and won her over with his “nice guy” persona, hideous judicial record be damned.

Once Di’s mind was changed, the GOP ratcheted up the whining about their vote delay, until they bugged Leahy into setting a vote.  Once it was set, several of the other Democrats on the committee realized that DiFi was changing her vote, and informed Leahy of that fact — and told him that he needed to speak to Feinstein about it.  Feinstein’s staff says that she told him herself prior to the vote, but I’ve heard from more than one source that isn’t what they heard. 

Either way, Leahy didn’t offset the Republican flattery with some of his own to counteract that before calling the vote.  And, ultimately, DiFi voted Southwick through to the full Senate.  And the rumor I was hearing that there had been a head count and that the DiFi vote was a surprise?  Most likely a face-saving rumor on someone’s part…because it certainly sounds like there was quite a heads up — from more than one Democratic Senator on the committee — that DiFi’s vote was going to be to allow Southwick through, and the vote was called anyway.

Bottom line:  Specter played Leahy like a badly tuned fiddle, and DiFi fell for a schmooze campaign because she was feeling like the girl who doesn’t get nearly enough attention at the dance.  And what do we get?  Southwick on the bench.  Lovely.  I contacted Sen. Leahy’s office about this issue last week — asking why a vote had been called if it was already known that DiFi was voting to pass the Southwick nomination through, and I’ve gotten no answer to my query as yet.

This also has been a point of much crowing for Lott, who is taking credit for the Feinstein flip and bragging about town on his persuasive prowess.  And the GOP is trying to use this as a means to wedge Feinstein further from the Dem caucus in the Senate by telling her that mean liberals don’t understand her fine integrity and commitment to Senate tradition, and that we don’t understand her — in other words, they are playing both sides against the middle, again.  

And what do we meanies on the blogs and out in the hinterlands of America really want?  We want them to do their jobs. 

A Bush judicial nominee that ought to have been stopped cold in a tactical certainty is, instead, headed for a full Senate vote and, from what I am hearing, most likely a confirmation.  This is me being pissed off…and thinking about much better tactics, which I’ll discuss in the next post.  But as Jane said yesterday, some leadership would go a long, long way about now…

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com