There’s a lot of confusion out there about just which Democrat is responsible for imperiling Indiana University professor Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel.
As Main Justice reported two weeks ago — and which some reporteres have overlooked — the real problem Democrat isn’t Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who has already said that he will vote “yea” on cloture. No, the real problem is Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, who is undecided on both cloture and confirmation.
Click here to read our story on Pryor, and scroll down to his Arkansas colleague Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D) quote about how she is “confident” she will support a cloture vote.
But after Attorney General Eric Holder said recently that confirming Johnsen is “probably my top priority,” there will be intense pressure on Pryor to get in line with his party. How can Democrats pressure him? Well, Lincoln is up for a potentially tough re-election next year. And among other tools, Holder is sitting on billions in stimulus funds for local law enforcement. He could threaten to withhold grants from Arkansas if Pryor doesn’t play ball. And Lincoln, who wants all that stimulus pork she can get for next year’s election, could pressure Pryor to fall in line if Holder holds the stimulus stick over them. And that’s only one of a multitude of ways the administration could pressure Pryor.
With that, here’s the Democratic scenario for reaching the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and proceed to the nomination:
After Arlen Specter’s party switch, Democrats (with the help of two independents) now effectively control 59 seats in the Senate. When all is said and done, Specter, who had a rough start with his new party, is likely to support his fellow Dems on the procedural vote. Last week, Greg Sargent at The Plum Line confirmed what we’d already reported: that Specter simply hasn’t decided yet how he will vote on cloture, though he opposes Johnsen’s confirmation. His spokeswoman told Sargent the obvious: that undecided means there is a chance Specter will vote yes.
But Democrats can’t count on Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, to show up for a cloture vote. According to govtrack.us, Kennedy hasn’t voted since April 2. So that makes 58 votes.
But yet another twist: Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has said he supports his home-state nominee. So now Democrats have 59 votes. So, assuming Pryor stays tethered, now all Democrats have to do is wait until June, when Republican Norm Coleman’s election challenge in Minnesota is expected to be over and Democrat Al Franken is likely to be seated.
There you have it folks: 60 votes.