GOP points to ‘tiny’ chance of filibuster

GOP POINTS TO ‘TINY’ CHANCE OF FILIBUSTER…. Speculation about how the Senate may respond to a Supreme Court nominee that hasn’t even been chosen yet is, by definition, premature. But Republicans nevertheless are weighing the larger context while crafting a strategy.

The NYT reports today that Justice John Paul Stevens’ retirement “presents a test” for Republicans. On the one hand, they want to keep the right-wing base fully motivated. On the other, some Republican leaders “said they were reluctant to give Democrats further ammunition to portray them as knee-jerk obstructionists.” And picking a fight over ideological/cultural issues shortly before the elections doesn’t strike many GOP leaders as a wise approach.

So, what’s the plan? At this point, apparently, it’s to downplay the possibility of a filibuster. Here’s ABC’s Jake Tapper’s report from today’s edition of “This Week.”

Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl told me that his party will never take the filibuster option off the table when considering a Supreme Court nominee, but that it would only be used in “extraordinary circumstances”. During my “This Week” interview with Senator Kyl and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) both Judiciary Committee members indicated that a filibuster would be unlikely. Schumer added that every indication was that the President’s choice would be in the mainstream, making the chance of a filibuster “tiny”.

For Kyl, then, who said filibusters of judicial nominees were unconscionable and unconstitutional during the Bush/Cheney era, the tactic is on the table, but unlikely to be used.

How gracious of him. Given that he would probably need all 41 Republican senators to refuse to allow a floor vote in order for such a gambit to succeed, Kyl isn’t really in a position to saber rattle effectively anyway.

For what it’s worth, Tapper also brought up the names of the four most talked about potential nominees — Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood, Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano — and sought Kyl’s reaction. All four, the senator said, are “nominally qualified,” adding, “It is unlikely that here will be a filibuster unless it’s an extraordinary circumstance.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.