President Barack Obama's top political strategist acknowledged Friday the administration is facing an uphill battle in its effort to win Republican votes for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, but he said that doesn't mean Kagan will stop trying.
David Axelrod, who advised Obama's presidential campaign before becoming a White House senior adviser, spoke with reporters on a conference call. He cited the hyper-partisanship in Congress and the upcoming midterm elections as among the reasons that Republican votes to confirm Kagan will be hard to come by.
"There's going to be enormous political pressure to line up on a partisan basis," Axelrod said, adding that he hopes senators of both parties will ignore that pressure.
He noted that several prominent Republican lawyers, including former Solicitors General Paul Clement and Theodore Olson, have endorsed Kagan. He also said Kagan is getting ready for her confirmation hearing as if there are votes up for grabs. The hearing begins today before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"On the merits, we think that this should be an easy decision for the committee and for the Senate. We also live in an extraordinarily polarized political climate, and therefore we are preparing to make a vigorous case," he said.
The Judiciary Committee has 12 Democrats and seven Republicans, one of whom, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voted in favor of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In the full Senate, eight Republicans voted to confirm Sotomayor. Seven Republicans voted last year to confirm Kagan as solicitor general.
One analysis by political scientists of Senate roll call votes shows that the Senate is more polarized by party than it has been since the 19th century. The increase has been steady and steep since the 1970s.
Axelrod and White House Counsel Robert Bauer, who was also on the call, declined to provide details about Kagan's preparation except to say she has spent multiple hours a day on it. "We have been going about the business you'd expect of getting ready for the hearings," Bauer said. "I would describe it as appropriate for the occasion."
For complete coverage of the Kagan nomination, see our special report, "The Choice."
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.