The Morning Line: Kagan’s Day in the Senate

BY Terence Burlij  August 5, 2010 at 8:27 AM EDT

Elena Kagan

The Senate is expected to approve Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court on Thursday. Kagan would join Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor as the third woman on the high court, the most in its history.

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While Kagan’s nomination is not in doubt, so far only five Republicans have agreed to support her. Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, meanwhile, is the lone Democrat to say he will vote against her. What that means for Kagan is she will likely receive fewer votes than Sotomayor, whose nomination was approved, 68-31, last year.

The Senate has posted a breakdown of how it has voted on past Supreme Court nominees.

President Obama tapped Kagan in May to replace retired Justice John Paul Stevens.

HIS KIND OF TOWN

President Obama wakes up Thursday in the home he owns in Chicago with one big mission in mind: Save his old U.S. Senate seat from slipping into Republican control. It also happens to be the seat that former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell in the wake of Mr. Obama’s presidential victory in 2008.

President Obama is also one year older Thursday, having celebrated his birthday last night with dinner with some of his closest friends (and Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King thrown in for some celebrity spice) at Graham Elliot, “Chicago’s first “bistronomic” restaurant, juxtaposing four star cuisine with humor and accessability,” according to its website.

The Democratic candidate for the Senate seat is Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who has been battered on the campaign trail because of his ties to the failed family-owned bank where he once worked.

The only thing that has kept this race, in heavily Democratic Illinois, from already being locked up by the GOP is that Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has proven to be a far less stellar candidate than many observers had expected. He has been caught not being entirely truthful about specifics of his military record as a decorated Naval officer.

Despite repeated White House pressure to get state Attorney General Lisa Madigan into the race, Giannoulias will be standing at President Obama’s side when he visits a Ford auto plant Thursday morning and again at a luncheon fundraiser for his campaign. He will also introduce Mr. Obama at a DNC fundraising event in the afternoon at the Chicago Cultural Center.

“Congressman Kirk has been getting quite a bit of attention for the fictions and untruths he’s created in his own record. And they are troubling,” Giannoulias plans to say at his fundraiser with the president this afternoon according to prepared remarks obtained by The Morning Line.

“But even more troubling are the facts in his record. The fact that over the past ten years, Kirk supported every single Bush Budget and economic policy that created this horrifying recession. The fact that after helping Wall Street wreck the economy, he opposed reforms of the very reckless behavior that cost us millions of jobs. The fact that he has taken millions from the corporate special interests and voted their way virtually every time. And the fact that after he helped drive our nation into the deepest economic recession in 75 years, he had the nerve to say unemployment wasn’t, quote, ‘a big issue.’ Then, just two weeks ago, he once again voted against extending unemployment benefits for our most vulnerable citizens,” he is expected to say.

Of course, Giannoulias has enough baggage of his own to give the National Republican Senatorial Committee tons of fodder for a fun web video.

President Obama’s official event at the Ford Motor Company plant is a bit of a repeat from his stop last Friday in Michigan. The White House is convinced the auto bailouts that were so unpopular with the American people last year are a turnaround story they can sell this year as a part of a recovering economy.

He will cap his day off with a high-dollar fundraiser at a private residence in Chicago before returning late Thursday to Washington, D.C.

“FINAL DOWN PAYMENT”

Despite failing to pass a small-business loans bill, campaign finance reform and an energy bill, Senate Democrats will attempt to make as much hay Thursday as possible about clearing the 60-vote threshold to avoid a GOP filibuster and approve $26 billion in federal funding for states aimed at preventing massive layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers.

It’s not entirely clear how Democrats won the support of the two (yet again) critical Republican senators from Maine. It could have been all those constituent phone calls or perhaps a particularly effective appeal from Gov. John Baldacci. One thing, however, is quite clear. Democrats are not likely to find success again in the foreseeable future for any additional mini-stimulus bills.

“I think that this should be sort of the final down payment,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, according to the Washington Post.

LAME DUCK

The midterm elections are still 89 days away, but some are already looking past November to a possible lame duck session of Congress.

One such organization is American Solutions, founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, which has developed a “No Lame Duck Pledge.” Through an online petition, people can send letters to their members of Congress asking them not to participate in a lame duck session. By Thursday morning, more than 1,300 people had signed onto the letter.

The group warns that congressional Democrats are determined to pass controversial legislation during the lame duck session, including a climate change bill and the union-friendly Employee Free Choice Act, better known as “Card Check.”

“It’s a political power grab of the worst kind,” American Solutions spokesman R.C. Bufford told The Morning Line.