WASHINGTON – Texas' Republican senators refused to cede control of judicial nominations, and now the Democratic White House seems to have struck a deal in their favor: The senators will continue screening applicants, though Texas Democrats will get input.
During the Bush administration, Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison relied on a handpicked panel of lawyers, nearly all Republicans, to screen applicants for judgeships and the four U.S. attorney slots in Texas.
That process will remain largely intact, with some key changes intended to mollify Democrats, according to Cornyn and Senate GOP aides.
The senators will release the names of committee members for the first time, ending a tradition of secrecy. They will also add Democrats to the committee, though they aren't promising an even split.
"Senator Hutchison and I offered the White House opportunity to select Democratic representatives on our committee. They declined to do so," Cornyn said.
The White House will take input from Texas Democrats separately but that apparently won't amount to a full-blown screening process.
The success of the system likely will hinge on good will.
Democrats will squawk if the committee recommends only conservatives. But the senators have far more leverage because Senate rules would let them block nominees they object to in committee.
"We understand that the White House will be consulting with Democratic members of Congress," Hutchison said through an aide. "We're happy to consider their suggestions as well."
This is a definite win for Kay and Big John, but it will also mean they are responsible when Obama slips a liberal Democrat trial lawyer onto the bench. It also underscores why so many Republicans don't want Kay to leave the Senate. Her vote, many people argue, may be important to stave off a Democrat filibuster-busting supermajority. Losing her seniority in the Senate is also a big concern for a lot of Texans, especially on under the radar issues like this.
Moreover, I am hearing more and more that it is just plain stupid for Republicans in Texas (where the NRSC and NRCC chairs are both from, where some of the wealthiest and most generous Republican donors are from, and where the core of the national Republican Party derives its strength) to beat each other up and spend tens of millions of dollars in the process. I am hearing a lot of frustration from people out there who say that those tens of millions of Texas Republican dollars should be focused on attacking Pelosi and Reid, not put toward a circular (and inward facing) firing squad.
On the other hand, the Rick versus Kay race could very well set the ideological tone for the rest of the party for the next few years. The Rick versus Kay race could very well determine the direction of the GOP. It could signal where the GOP is headed going into the 2012 presidential race. Rick is widely considered to be the more "movement conservative" of the two on both social issues and fiscal ones. Kay is widely considered to be more of a moderate.
There are also plenty of conservative activists, especially of the pro-life variety, who are eager to see Kay leave the Senate, however that happens, if only so she can be replaced by a "real conservative."