It isnt just the number of Republicans in the Senate that matters; the number of conservatives is also important. So what will the conservative headcount be next year?
Let’s assume the Republicans hold all of their seats and pick up North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado, and Nevada (note that this is a marginally less optimistic scenario than what I’ve predicted). In broad terms, I think this would mean 45 conservatives in the Senate — the current 41 Republicans minus Snowe, Collins, and Brown plus all of the 2010 winners except Kirk in Illinois.
With 45 conservatives, it should be possible to block essentially all liberal legislation, even allowing for the seemingly inevitable defections. Of course, the House will almost certainly block such legislation anyway.
Forty-five conservatives probably won’t be enough to ensure blockage of liberal Obama administration nominees, nor would routine blockage necessarily be desirable. However, the ability to block the more left-leaning judicial and Justice Department nominees will be enhanced beyond obviously problematic ones like Dawn Johnsen and Goodwin Liu, who have been blocked by the current Congress.
Would Elena Kagan have made it through the Senate I’m positing? Having received only 63 votes, there’s plenty of room for doubt. The following Senators who voted for her confirmation will, in my hypothesis, have been replaced by conservative members: Lincoln, Bennet, Bayh, Reed, Gregg (replaced in New Hampshire by the more conservative Ayotte, who was backed by Sarah Palin), Dorgan, Specter, and Feingold. I suspect that a future Kagan would also have to work quite hard for the vote of Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who replaces another “yes” vote. Murkowski voted “no” so her replacement by Miller wouldn’t affect this exercise.
What about the prospects for passing non-liberal legislation enacted by the House? Obviously, 45 conservatives won’t be enough; six more votes will be needed. In some instances, they might come from non-conservative Republicans Snowe, Collins, Brown, and Kirk, plus Manchin and a couple of pseudo-centrists Dems such as Ben Nelson, Webb, Prior, Tester, and Landieux, who suddenly may be far more worried than before about their prospects for re-election.
In general, though, the prospects for garnering 51 votes in favor of a particular conservative agenda item in the Senate I’m positing will not be strong.
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