Former Senator Kelly Ayotte will lead the White House team trying to shepherd Judge Neil Gorsuch through the Senate. This means introducing him to her former colleagues and singing his praises to them.
Team Trump’s selection of Ayotte for this assignment makes perfect sense. The role traditionally goes to an ex-member with good connections to the body. Fred Thompson and Dan Coates filled it during the confirmation process for John Roberts and Samuel Alito, respectively.
Ayotte was considered a somewhat moderate Republican and may have decent connections with some Democratic Senators. She’s a woman, which conceivably could help with Democrats like Senators McCaskill and Heitkamp (and perhaps with her former New England Republican colleague Susan Collins). If Gorsuch is to get the eight Democrats needed to invoke cloture, McCaskill and Heitkamp will probably have to be won over.
I’m just speculating when it comes to Ayotte’s relationships with Democrats. However, it is well-known that she is close — some might say too close for her own good — to Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
They can be expected to support Gorsuch with or without Ayotte’s intervention. But the two amigos might become the key players if Mitch McConnell is forced to use the “nuclear option” (which might more appropriately be called the “Reid option”) to get Gorsuch confirmed.
If McConnell goes that route — and I think he probably will if he has to — he might need the backing of McCain and Graham to get to the required 50 votes. The two are perhaps the two most likely Republicans to balk at the “Reid option.”
In the effort to win them over, it won’t hurt to have Kelly Ayotte in Judge Gorsuch’s corner. Thus, she’s a sensible choice to be the judge’s shepherd.
Even so, the selection of Ayotte may strike some as odd. The New Hampshire Union Leader of Ayotte’s home state calls the selection “unlikely.” It notes that the former Senator spoke out at times against Donald Trump’s candidacy. For example, she expressed dismay, and backed away (understandably) from previous comments about Trump as a role model, when the “pussy grabbing” tape was released.
As a result, Trump appears to have excluded Ayotte from consideration for a post in his administration. Indeed, shortly after the election — during a rant, mostly untrue, about how he had carried GOP Senate candidate after GOP Senate candidate to victory, but not Ayotte because she hadn’t been supportive — Trump mocked her for seeking a high level administration job. “No thank you,” he said smugly, was his response to her.
Now, however, the president seems willing to let bygones by bygones.
Trump is behaving sensibly in enlisting Ayotte to help Gorsuch. Ayotte is behaving sensibly in agreeing to help. It’s for a good cause and it might be her ticket to a role in the administration somewhere down the line.