WASHINGTON - The National Rifle Association’s threat to punish senators who vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has been met with a shrug by Democrats from conservative-leaning states and some Republicans who are breaking with their party to support her.
The gun rights group is used to getting its way by warning lawmakers about the political consequences of defying its wishes. But the group’s leaders had not previously weighed in on a Supreme Court confirmation battle, and they were nervous from the start about engaging in what looked like a losing a fight to defeat President Obama’s first pick for the court.
The earlier caution may have been well-founded. A week after the NRA said it would count a “yes’’ vote on Sotomayor against senators in its influential candidate ratings, several conservative Democrats and a couple of Republicans who have received the group’s highest scores have come out in support of the appeals court judge.
They include A-plus-rated and NRA-endorsed Democrats Max Baucus and his fellow Montanan, A-rated Jon Tester, as well as A-rated and NRA-endorsed Republican Lamar Alexander, the only GOP leader to break with the rest of his party to back Sotomayor.
Sotomayor is expected to easily win confirmation in a vote this coming week that could deflate the long-accepted truism in Washington that you don’t cross the NRA.
That is not to say that the NRA’s late decision to wade in has not had an effect. Many Senate Republicans who were considered possible “yes’’ votes for Sotomayor - including Utah’s Orrin Hatch, Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, and Texas’s Kay Bailey Hutchison - came out against her after the NRA’s announcement, citing gun rights concerns as an important reason.
Some Senate Democrats who have high NRA ratings, including Alaska’s Mark Begich and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, are on the fence.
Still, the NRA’s threats seem to hold less potency on this vote. Asked whether he was worried about ruining his perfect NRA score and endorsement by voting for Sotomayor, Nelson paused and said with a smile, “I’d probably have a good rating regardless.’’