In what had to be the most candid opening statement of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) acknowledged that President Obama's court nominee would almost definitely end up on the bench.
"Unless you have a complete meltdown, you are going to get confirmed," Graham said to the amusement of those in attendance. "And I do not think you will. The drama that is being created here is interesting."
The senator went on to say that he was not sure how he would vote, though in recent days he has hinted that he could back the appeals court judge.
What came next from the South Carolina Republican was equally blunt. "My Republican colleagues who will vote against it, I assure you could vote for a Hispanic nominee," he said to her. "They just feel unnerved by your speeches and by some of the things you have said, and some of your cases."
It was a tacit acknowledgment of how concerned Graham and the rest of the GOP are about these confirmation hearings. The party did itself no favors when it painted Obama's nominee as a "reverse racist" right out of the gate. Since then, Republican lawmakers have done their best not to come off as insensitive about the obvious pride the Hispanic community has about the nomination of one of its own.
As a pivot, Graham used the filibustered nomination of Miguel Estrada for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals during the Bush years to diffuse talk that the Republican Party was somehow anti-immigrant.
"No Republican would have chosen you, Judge," Graham bluntly told Sotomayor. "That is just the way it is. We would have picked Miguel Estrada. And we would all have voted for him. I don't think anybody on that side would have voted for Judge Estrada, who was a Honduran immigrant who came to this country as a teenager, graduated from Columbia magna cum laude, Harvard 1986 magna cum laude and law review editor. A stellar background like yours. And that is just the way it was. He never had a chance to have this hearing. He was nominated by President Bush to the D.C. Circuit of Appeals, which I think most people agree is the second highest court in the land. And he never had this day. The Hispanic element of this hearing is important, but I do not want it to be lost. This is mostly about liberal and conservative politics more than anything else."
UPDATE: A Democratic operative points out that Graham was wrong to assert that Estrada "never had a chance to have this hearing." The Bush nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court did, in fact, have his day before the Judiciary Committee. It came on September 19, 2002, roughly half a year before Estrada was initially filibustered by the Senate.