By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

What did Schumer say?

“Meet the Press” host Tim Russert seems to think he extracted a significant admission out of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday. I’m not even sure how to describe this, so just follow along with Media Nation and see if you agree with Russert — or if you instead have the same head-scratching reaction that I had.

The subject: Whether and under what circumstances Schumer, a New York Democrat, would support a filibuster aimed at defeating the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito. From the transcript:

SCHUMER: I haven’t made up my mind about how to vote and certainly whether to block him or not, whether to urge my colleagues in the caucus to filibuster. But he’s got to answer a lot of questions.

RUSSERT: But you haven’t ruled out a filibuster?

SCHUMER: Have not ruled it out, no.

Later in the program came this exchange:

SCHUMER: Judge Alito has stated unequivocally, just as you said, not only his personal view on pro-life, on pro-choice — we approved lots of judges who were pro-life. I’m very strongly pro-choice, but I voted for 190 judges who were pro-life that the president has nominated. But he [Alito] has stated his constitutional view, his legal view, and that is that the Constitution does not provide for a right to an abortion. The worst thing that could happen with Judge Alito is if he tries to duck the question. Let him say, as you said, one way or the another, he doesn’t agree but he’ll respect precedent or this is one of those precedents that should be re-examined and turned over. But if he says, “I can’t answer that question ’cause it might show bias,” which is what John Roberts said, he can’t do that because he’s already shown bias, not in a pejorative sense. He’s shown his view on this.

RUSSERT: Well, if he has 51 votes, he can do it.

SCHUMER: Well, you know — but that’s the issue here. And we Democrats —

RUSSERT: If he did that, would you filibuster?

SCHUMER: Well, it would certainly — if he continued to do that on all of these issues that I mentioned, if he ducked the question, the American people have a right to answer and we know what’s going on here. Seventy percent of the American people say they don’t want a justice nominated who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

RUSSERT: No, but on the question of abortion, if he in your mind ducks that question, is that enough to filibuster?

SCHUMER: You can’t judge on one specific question. If he continuously, given his previous record, refuses to answer questions and hid behind this shibboleth, “I can’t answer this ’cause it might come before me,” it would increase the chance of a filibuster, absolutely.

Still later, Russert was interviewing Kate Michelman, former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, when he suddenly said this:

RUSSERT: You just heard Senator Schumer, Kate Michelman, say that even if Judge Alito will not answer questions about Roe v. Wade, that in itself is not grounds for filibuster.

Is that what Schumer said? Maybe my ability to understand plain English isn’t what it used to be. But I don’t think so. It strikes me that Russert is reading universes into Schumer’s statement that “You can’t judge on one specific question.” But Schumer’s statement that he hasn’t ruled out a filibuster seems a lot more pertinent.

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  1. Steve

    I think Russert’s formulation “that in itself” is accurate in an English language sense (or maybe in a mathematical logic sense). Schumer didn’t say “if Alito ducks abortion questions, we will absolutely filibuster”. Schumer seemed to need more than just that.That said, it certainly seemed to me that Schumer was bending over backwards to avoid saying “we will filibuster”. In that sense, Russert’s statement to Michelman seemed inaccurately based, taking what Schumer said literally, but twisting what Schumer’s meaning seemed to be.But Russert’s tactic is certainly a common one – trying to create controversy where there really isn’t much there. Schumer’s and Michelman’s views on abortion rights are (as far as I can tell) extremely similar. But what good TV can be created out of that?

  2. Bill Baar

    The real marvel is Russert and Schumer can talk like this without mentioning the word abortion.I just heard Sen Fienstein in the hearings talk about the right to chose… chose what? She couldn’t bring herself to say.

  3. Anonymous

    Russert’s dead to me. Whatever happens on MTP is going to have to happen without my paying attention. Let me count the ways. But the real guilty pleasure yesterday was the befuddled and slightly annoyed sigh Wolf Blitzer let out after Howard Dean shot down the spin point that the Abramoff scandal is just as stinky with Democrats as it is with Republicans. It reminded me of the bar scene in “Good Will Hunting.” Wolf never looked so stupid.

  4. Anonymous

    Did Little Russ bring up the Buffalo Bills in the discussion?

  5. Anonymous

    Evidence that not everyone chooses their words as carefully as we bloggers do: (per Taranto in WSJ Opinion Journal today, a link would have lost you, I think):”The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports that one Judiciary Committee member needs a refresher course in recent history:Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), hosting a morning roundtable with reporters, had nothing nice to say about Alito. “We here in the United States are not going to stand for monarchial tyranny,” he said, protesting Alito’s support for “unfettered, unlimited power of the executive.” He faulted Alito for belonging to a group that was “anti-black and also anti-women.” Kennedy wondered if “the average person is going to be able to get a fair shake” under Alito.Briefly, Kennedy rewrote the outcome of the 1964 election. “This nominee was influenced by the Goldwater presidency,” he said. “The Goldwater battles of those times were the battles against the civil rights laws.” Only then did Kennedy acknowledge that “Judge Alito at that time was 14 years old.”What’s Kennedy’s excuse? He was 32 and already in the Senate when Barry Goldwater, a fellow senator, lost his only race for the presidency by a landslide.There seems to be a lot of this about. Robert Kuttner, a left-wing Boston Globe columnist, writes that “the Democrats have 45 senators (counting independent Bernie Sanders).” In fact Sanders, an admitted socialist, is a member of the House, though he is running for the Senate seat now held by Jim Jeffords.And an editorial in the New York Times–faulting president Bush for using “a constitutional gimmick”–i.e., recess appointments, which have been part of the nation’s charter since 1787–states that “the Senate has been under Republican control for Mr. Bush’s entire five years in office.” Not so. Thanks to Jeffords, Democrats held a bare majority from May 2001 until January 2003.”

  6. Bill Baar

    anon 5:08 Check out the Pitts Post-Dispatch on Kennedy,In politics as in music, sometimes everything old is new again. Even so, there is a mustiness about the argument that only a properly constituted Supreme Court stands between us and runaway racism and sexism and what Sen. Kennedy called “monarchial tyranny.” It’s hard to make that argument too forcefully without seeming to confirm the conservative caricature of liberals as unwilling to abide by the will of elected representatives.If Sen. Kennedy and other Alito critics seem to be going through the motions, it may be because in 2006 the American public can’t be sold on the idea that this will remain a free country only if Sandra Day O’Connor is replaced by another “centrist.”

  7. neil

    Anonymous at 5:08–you’re quoting Taranto quoting Milbank quoting Kennedy, as evidence that people don’t choose their words carefully? The way you’ve pasted it in you can’t tell where Milbank’s quote ends and Taranto’s recommences, and it has the effect of, ambiguously at least, putting words in Milbank’s mouth. (So we get to witness the birth of a bouncing new misattribution–isn’t it cute!) Milbank’s quote ends with the “…14 years old.” paragraph. You can unpeel the onion one layer, by going to Milbank’s post at WaPo directly, though you might need a (free) account to see it. After that, starting with “What’s Kennedy’s excuse?”, the rest of the entry, including that stuff about Kuttner and the NYT is all Taranto, not Milbank.And not you either. Nutty suggestion and this goes for Bill too. Instead of pasting in quotes from elsewhere, subvert the dominant paradigm and express your thoughts yourself! Be your own original source.That anonymous’s comment has been entered in response to an entry about the problem of Person A (mis- or not) paraphrasing Person B is:a. an example of “recursion”b. ironicc. yet another hoax! If c., then ya got me! My guess is a. and b.As for aphasic Teddy, yes he made yet another verbal blunder and presumably meant to say “candidacy” rather than “presidency”. He’s prone to gaffes that’s for sure, and damages his cause when he makes them. But no matter how often Teddy sticks his foot in his mouth, the most he can ever hope for is a distant second in that particular competition.As Abraham Lincoln said, you can fool some of the people some of the time… (I keed! Ref c. above.)

  8. Bill Baar

    Check my comments on other posts here. You can always recognize me by the typos and lapses into E-dyslexia.

  9. whispers

    What I read in the Russert/Schumer exchange is Schumer trying to avoid appearing like abortion is a ‘litmus test’ issue for him. It seemed clear to me that Russert wanted to frame the issue around abortion. Russert’s comment: “even if Judge Alito will not answer questions about Roe v. Wade, that in itself is not grounds for filibuster” is a dishonest translation of what Schumer said. Schumer makes it clear that, by itself, stonewalling is a cause for concern and could increase the likelihood of a filibuster. He refused to be dragged into specifics of stonewalling (and why should he? That would be equivalent to giving Alito a road map of what questions he can avoid.) Reserving the right to decide later is quite a different animal than saying that avoiding questions about abortion is not grounds for filibustering. Russert is simply rewriting what Schumer said.

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