There was a point during last night’s debate, as Chris Dodd railed against Hillary, when a friend turned to me and said, “Imagine if it was Obama saying that.” It’s a sentiment a lot of Democrats have been thinking over the past few weeks. What if Obama started talking like Dodd?
A few weeks ago, Dodd put a hold on the FISA bill that would give immunity to telephone companies that cooperated with government wiretapping. More recently, he became the first Democratic candidate to publicly oppose the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as attorney general. Since then, Sen. Biden and the three front-runners have all jumped on board . (Mukasey’s refusal to classify waterboarding as torture and his views on executive powers have irked other Democrats, too.) Both moves have won Dodd admiration among activists and, while his prospects for election may still be dim, but there’s no doubt he has shaped the debate.
Why hasn’t Obama done the same? As Washington Monthly ’s Kevin Drum noted the other day, Obama needs a new issue . He may have struck gold last night when Hillary went knock-kneed over the secrecy surrounding her National Archive papers. But in the meantime, there’s no reason he shouldn’t take the lead in opposing Mukasey. He missed his first chance. But if Mukasey’s nomination comes to a vote, most likely next week, he will have a second shot: the filibuster.
The last person to call for a major judicial filibuster was John Kerry during Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearings. That plan didn’t go particularly well and even drew him some scorn, since many senators considered it futile. But with more and more Dems turning against Mukasey’s nomination, Obama would likely have more backing.
No word yet from Obama’s campaign on whether they’d consider using the filibuster. Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for Dodd, said the senator would be “considering what options are available.” The filibuster is clearly one of them. The question is, who will push for it first?