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August 28, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Senators’ public spat can’t be won by Reid

Harry Reid doesn’t lose very often.

I speak not of policy debates, where the byzantine practices of the Club of 100 cannot always be navigated. But when it comes to political games — when he is not playing meddler-in-chief in races that are not his own — Reid almost always wins.

But on the Elissa Cadish nomination to the federal bench, the Senate majority leader is going to lose, unless he is a magician of such Copperfieldian skills that he can commit an act of prestidigitation that would be miraculous even for him.

This story is truly an extraordinary one, as you have the nearly unprecedented public conflict between two senators from the same state over a judicial nomination. This is where collegiality almost always trumps partisanship — and if differences cannot be reconciled, they are settled privately.

But since Sen. Dean Heller informed Reid late last month that he would not support Cadish, and word of his maneuver became public , this has become a very public chess game. Ordinarily, I’d say this is Bobby Fischer vs. Bart Simpson. But Reid simply does not have the pieces to overcome Heller’s Second Amendment Gambit.

In case you missed it, Cadish filled out a questionnaire during her campaign in 2008 and answered a question about whether there is a constitutional right to bear arms thusly: “I do not believe there is this constitutional right.” (See it here.)

It’s right there in black and white, in her own handwriting. But it never came out in her campaign, although it was done for a conservative group, so it’s not surprising someone slipped it to Heller after Reid suggested Cadish’s nomination this year. Here’s what has happened since Heller saw her answer on the right to bear arms:

The junior senator decided he couldn’t support Cadish and informed Reid he would not sign the so-called blue slip, a usually pro forma way to move the nomination forward. Then things got really interesting.

First of all, Reid claims Heller did not tell him why he was opposing Cadish, which seems quite the tale of a fabulist. Which conversation is more likely?

• Heller: “I’m sorry, Senator, I can’t support your choice.” Reid: “OK, thanks for telling me.”

• Heller: “I’m sorry, Senator, I can’t support your choice because she does not believe the Constitution contains a right to bear arms.” Reid: “What? You must be kidding.” Heller: “I wish I were. But I can’t sign the blue slip.” Reid: “How did I not know about this?” Heller: “I’m sorry about that.”

Of course Heller told him. And it seems as if the chain of events that ensued bears that out as Heller tried not to embarrass Reid by making any statements.

But once word leaked to me — not through either senator’s office — Reid did what he does best: He set out to win at all costs.

First, he had Cadish write a letter to “explain” her answer, a letter first reported by the Review-Journal’s Steve Sebelius, and I posted it here.

But her assertion that the answer was not “my personal opinion” was weak sauce and her invocation of court cases clarifying the Second Amendment’s intent, including one seminal decision called the Heller case (you can’t make this stuff up), seemed strained.

Reid pushed Cadish’s otherwise impeccable record and fine reputation — no one I know says she is anything but a stellar judge — and received much support in the media among columnists. My guess is Reid may even have thought Heller would relent and say he had seen the light.

But why would he?

Reid then put out word Tuesday that he would not withdraw the Cadish nomination and said Heller would meet with her, a classic Prince Harry move because he had to know no sit-down had been scheduled. But once he said it, Heller had to meet with Cadish, at least for appearances, and they are expected to have a face-to-face soon.

Most great chess players — and Reid qualifies — can think a few moves ahead and have an endgame strategy. But I can’t figure this one ending with any other play than Reid laying down his king.

Does he think he wins even if he loses by portraying Heller’s blocking move as part of his — oh, how I hate this phrase — “war on women”? Perhaps.

But does Reid think most swing voters in Nevada would agree with what Cadish said in that questionnaire? Does anyone think Reid would have filled it out that way? (His folks wouldn’t answer that one!)

Even if Heller were to change his mind — and he can’t — there is no chance, no matter how qualified Cadish might be, that the U.S. Senate would confirm her. So Reid will have the choice of a national sensation or a quiet withdrawal.

He is going to lose.

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