The Senate isn’t any closer to voting on Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said at a reporter’s gaggle in the Capitol today. ”We need some Republicans on our side,” Durbin said.
For weeks, Democrats have tried to unify their caucus behind the liberal Indiana University law professor and woo some Republicans to prevent a filibuster. With Sen. Arlen Specter’s party switch this week, Democrats have 57 seats in the Senate. In addition, two independents caucus with the Democrats. And one Republican - Johnsen’s home state senator, Richard Lugar of Indiana - has said he supports her nomination.
But that doesn’t mean Democrats are over the 60-vote hurdle to cut off debate. After weeks of staying mum on the subject, Specter said Tuesday he opposes Johnsen’s confirmation. But he didn’t answer a question about whether he’d vote with his new party on a procedural motion to end debate.
Moreover, Sen. Edward Kennedy is battling brain cancer and unlikely to make it for a vote. And the Minnesota Senate race is still undecided. That means: Even if all the Democrats (including Specter but minus Kennedy), and the two independents, and Lugar vote to end debate on Johnsen, Democrats only have 59 votes.
If Specter balks at voting with his new party on the procedural vote, Democrats only have 58 votes.
If any conservative Democrat peels off, Democrats could be even farther in the hole. (We have a call into Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who is up for re-election next year in a conservative-leaning state, but haven’t heard back about her position on Johnsen). However, conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who opposes Johnsen’s confirmation over her past advocacy for abortion rights, has said he will stick with his party on the procedural vote and support ending debate.
The Democrats are still whipping. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he “had a conversation” about the Johnsen nomination on Tuesday. He wouldn’t say with whom, but moderate Maine Republicans Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have said they have not made up their minds on Johnsen.