Conservatives Gear Up for Battles on START and Stevens Replacement

It's going to be a long hot summer for the Obama administration in the Senate leading up to the November mid-term election—and the heat could burn the Democrats badly on Election Day.

We already knew that a controversial new nuclear-arms treaty with Russia was going to be center stage on the Hill this summer, and now a Supreme Court battle is in the offing. No matter whom Obama picks, there is bound to be a fight—and it will be a bitter one designed to stoke the anger of the Republican base.

As the news of Justice John Paul Stevens's pending departure spread here in New Orleans at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (home base of the modern conservative GOP), the murmurs in the hallway had one sentiment: the certainty that President Obama would pick a pro-choice "liberal" who will support his "big-government" agenda for the country.

The GOP's midterm strategy is loud and clear: it's based on anger at and fear of Obama and his Democratic allies on the Hill, notably House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In what is usually a low-turnout midterm, the most motivated voters are the ones who matter, and the GOP base—judging from the record turnout and energy here—is motivated.

This summer it's not going to be easy for the WhIte House to get the eight GOP votes they need to pass the new START treaty with Russia. Delegates here are united in their opposition to it, and to Obama's overall approach to nuclear weapons.

And it's hard to imagine whom Obama might pick—short of a Republican—who would elicit a favorable response from the 41-vote GOP minority in the Senate. Once again the White House is going to have to focus on the few Republicans who might be willing to support it—the two senators from Maine in particular. No matter whom he picks, the threat of a filibuster is real.

The White House and Democrats keep saying that most of the American people are sick of the GOP's role as the "Party of No." But most of the American people don't vote, especially in the congressional midterm elections.