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Sotomayor's Nomination Reveals Obama's Biggest Mistake

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Following Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court today, two U.S. Senators issued the following statements.

First:

In Judge Sotomayor, we have a superbly qualified jurist, who understands, respects, and connects with the people whose lives will be affected by the Court. Judge Sotomayor will bring invaluable experience and much needed diversity to our nation's highest court. I look forward to a respectful and swift confirmation process in which Congress and the American people can learn more about Judge Sotomayor's phenomenal qualifications.

Second:

I applaud the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Her confirmation would add needed diversity in two ways: the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the high court. While her record suggests excellent educational and professional qualifications, now it is up to the Senate to discharge its constitutional duty for a full and fair confirmation process.

They're starkly different statements. The first is a full-throated endorsement, filled with enthusiasm. Clearly the senator who issued it stands behind Sotomayor 100 percent. The second is tepid at best. The senator who signed it has no enthusiasm for the coming fight over Sotomayor's nomination.

Different as they are, these two statements do have one thing in common: President Obama is working to clear the primary field for both of the Senators who issued them. The first comes from New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, the second from newly minted Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Since he switched parties, Specter has continued his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, opposed highly qualified Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen, and now appears to have no little or no interest in helping President Obama push through his first Supreme Court nominee from his influential seat on the Judiciary Committee.

In return, the White House has promised Specter full support in his reelection bid. He has gone from facing near-certain defeat in a Republican primary to having the President of the United States working to ensure he faces no primary opposition.

All of which begs the question: isn't supporting Specter the biggest mistake of the Obama presidency so far?

Obama has given Specter a second lease on his political life, saving him from ignominious defeat by a member of his own (former) party and delivering him a better than 50-50 chance at a victory in 2010. In return, Specter has not only not promised any votes to go the president's way, but instead seems determined to prove his independence from his new party by bucking Obama at every turn.

There's no short-term gain for Obama -- he still has to fight for Specter's vote every time he faces a close vote in the Senate. And the long-term gain for leaving Specter in the GOP was obvious: once Pat Toomey finished him off in the primary, any Democrat could have wiped the floor with the radical founder of the Club for Growth in the increasingly blue Pennsylvania. We would have been assured a real Democrat sitting in Specter's seat come January 2011.

Senator Specter will likely vote for Sotomayor. He'll probably even vote for cloture. And her nomination doesn't hinge on his support But his milquetoast statement today makes it clear he has no enthusiasm for Obama's nominee and no intention of using his influence or leadership on her behalf.

In his four short months in the White House, President Obama already has amassed a long list of accomplishments and a short list of mistakes. But supporting Arlen Specter's bid for the Democratic nomination must be the biggest error of his presidency yet. It is a major strategic blunder that Democrats could be paying for for years to come.