Dems seize on votes for Sotomayor by GOP retirees

Democrats are using the fact that four retiring Republican senators voted for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to argue the nominee was well-qualified and that the GOP base is outside of the American mainstream.

The Senate’s 68-31 vote on Thursday made Sotomayor the first Hispanic on the court and only the third woman, coming 72 days after President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaHealthcare saga shaping GOP approach to tax bill Is a wave election forming for Democrats? Voting advocates notch win at Supreme Court MORE nominated the New York native.

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Her supporters included nine of the 40 Senate Republicans: Mel Martinez (Fla.), George Voinovich (Ohio), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Kit Bond (Mo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamCongress should pass the RAC Act to protect Dreamers Juan Williams: Trump morphs into Nixon This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony MORE (S.C.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsRussia probes in limbo after special prosecutor announcement GOP senator slams 'lack of leadership' coming from Trump GOP senators push Trump for DOE research funding MORE (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate GOP short on ideas for stabilizing ObamaCare markets GOP senators push Trump for DOE research funding Key chairman open to delaying repeal of ObamaCare mandate MORE (Tenn.). Of those, Martinez, Voinovich, Gregg and Bond are retiring.

“I think it was an exceptional nominee that garnered their support, but I also think that if you’re free from seeking re-election, you’re even freer from your party’s pressure or the NRA’s pressure,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert MenendezRobert MenendezThe Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see Taiwan deserves to participate in United Nations The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump MORE (N.J.).

The National Rifle Association had opposed Sotomayor, and had announced it was “scoring” the vote in its future evaluations of lawmakers.

Menendez also said the retirees’ votes for Sotomayor could come into play in next year’s Senate races — such as Florida, where centrist GOP Gov. Charlie Crist faces a primary from Marco RubioMarco RubioDHS extends protected status for Haitians for six months Congress should let local communities set their own PACE Rubio: ‘People got what they voted for’ MORE, a former state House speaker who is considered far more conservative. Martinez delivered an eloquent Senate speech supporting Sotomayor, Menendez noted, but Crist had announced his opposition.

“Charlie Crist is going to have to explain why Mel Martinez can make all the comments he made and he’s appealing to the hard right,” Menendez said. “That may be great in a primary election, but it’s going to be troublesome in the general election with a huge Latino population. Those are the type of examples we’re talking about.”

Gregg, Bond and Voinovich all denied their re-election decisions were a factor in their votes on Thursday, noting that they have supported Democratic nominees in the past. Bond pointed to his vote for Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993, while Gregg noted he supported both Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer in 1994.

“Our job is not to judge the political philosophy of the nominees,” Bond told The Hill. “I vote the same way whether I’m running for re-election or not.”

Likewise, Voinovich downplayed any suggestion of freedom from the GOP base.

“My conscience — I’m never free of that,” he said. “I try to call them as I see them, and I think the woman was qualified.”

Martinez announced Friday he intends to resign at the end of August, after previously announcing he wouldn’t seek re-election.

“I really do think it’s about feeling liberated,” Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst at The Cook Political Report, said of the retirees’ votes. “The pressure from the base matters a whole lot less. Voinovich and Bond have seemingly been doing this for a while, but even more so lately. They’re clearly going to do what they want as long as they’re there.”

Voinovich, a well-known moderate, ruffled feathers last month when he told an Ohio newspaper the Republican Party “has been taken over by southerners,” which brought a backlash from conservative Sen. David VitterDavid VitterOvernight Energy: Trump set to propose sharp cuts to EPA, energy spending Former La. official tapped as lead offshore drilling regulator Former senator who crafted chemicals law to lobby for chemicals industry MORE (R-La.). Bond, for his part, delivered a well-received floor speech announcing his support for Sotomayor and warning that both political parties should not oppose Supreme Court nominees based on their philosophy.

“He was basically saying, ‘At some point it’s got to stop,’ “ said Duffy.

At least one Republican leader agreed that retirements likely played a role in the GOP vote for Sotomayor, although the party didn’t whip the vote beforehand.

“Everyone came to different conclusions, but I do think if you’re not running for re-election, you’ll vote more freely,” said GOP Policy Chairman John ThuneJohn ThunePressure is on for administration to release infrastructure plan Five roadblocks for Trump’s T infrastructure plan Overnight Tech: FCC begins rolling back net neutrality | Sinclair deal puts heat on regulators | China blames US for 'Wanna Cry' attack MORE (S.D.).