White House Worried About Johnsen Nomination

Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel is in trouble, White House officials said today. Vote counters believe that she is several votes shy of the 60 needed to avert a filibuster. Some Democrats, like Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) are almost certain to oppose the nod.  The administration is quietly lobbying pro-choice Republicans -- Maine's two senators -- and Sen. Arlen Specter, although Specter's vote is unlikely given his political position, which is forcing him to the right.  Johnsen's credentials are not in question, and several conservative legal luminaries believe she would be a good counsel to the Attorney General.  But as the former counsel to NARAL, she's being forced to defend every legal position that the abortion lobby ever took; on the Hill, to conservatives, abortion remains the definitional conflict of the culture wars,  and so every one of Johnsen's words and metaphors and analogies are under scrutiny. The White House could do more to push her nomination through. But doing so would entail participation in culture wars, something this White House is not keen to do. So the public campaign for Johnson has been soft, and the private campaign has been kept private. Make no mistake: the White House wants to see her confirmed, but they are not going to expend more than a certain amount of energy to see her through.  Senior officials discussed Johnsen's nomination on a conference call yesterday evening. The opposition to Johnsen, an outspoken opponent of torture and the politicalization of the Justice Department, was at first denoted by references to her legal views. There were hints that the White House somehow was using the OLC memos as a cudgel to force Republicans to confirm Johnsen. That turned out not to be true. Johnsen may be the last Democratic victim of the abortion wars.