WASHINGTON, Jan 26 Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts could not attend the Senate debate on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Thursday. He was in Davos, Switzerland, mingling with international business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum.
But late Thursday afternoon, Mr. Kerry began calling fellow Democratic senators in a quixotic, last-minute effort for a filibuster to stop the nomination.
Democrats cringed and Republicans jeered at the awkwardness of his gesture, which almost no one in the Senate expects to succeed.
We would like to know who, among the spineless Democrats, cringed. Don't care about jeering Rethugs, as that is par for the course for them, anyway.
Cringing Democrats may well be responsible for the end of their party.
"God bless John Kerry," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Judiciary Committee. "He just cinched this whole nomination. With Senator Kerry, it is Christmas every day."
Don't be an ass, Stewart! The nomination was a done deal out of committee, barring a filibuster.
Steve Schmidt, a White House spokesman working on the nomination, said Mr. Kerry's move "says a lot less about Alito than it does about the Iowa primary in 2008," suggesting that Mr. Kerry, who lost the presidential race in 2004, was playing to his party's liberal base in a bid to recapture its nomination.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, sounded almost apologetic about Mr. Kerry's statements.
Harry Reid is on thin ice with most of us anyway. The only time he has shown any intestinal fortitude was when he closed the Senate down, because of the lack of hearings by Pat Roberts' committee. There still haven't been any hearings on the subject of the use of pre-war Intel.
"No one can complain on this matter that there hasn't been sufficient time to talk about Judge Alito, pro and con," Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. "I hope that this matter will be resolved without too much more talking."
Mr. Kerry's call for a filibuster, an effort to stop confirmation by refusing to close debate and hold a vote, was joined by his fellow Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy.
Good for you, Teddy
Under Senate procedures, their objections blocked the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders from setting Tuesday as the date for a vote on confirmation.
Instead, the Senate will vote Monday on whether to close debate. Sixty votes are required for a full Senate vote on Judge Alito. More than 60 senators have already pledged to support him, and the leaders of both parties said they expected to hold the full vote on Tuesday.
Mr. Kerry offered an explanation for his position in a post on a liberal blog, the Daily Kos.
"People can say all they want that 'elections have consequences,' " he wrote. "Trust me, more than anyone I understand that. But that seems like an awfully convoluted rationale for me to stay silent about Judge Alito's nomination."
Mr. Kerry was celebrated by leaders of the coalition of liberal groups opposing Judge Alito's nomination.
"Senator John Kerry has called for a filibuster of the Alito nomination, heeding your calls to do everything possible to defeat it," People for the American Way cheered in an e-mail message to its supporters.
Mr. Kennedy said a filibuster might help focus attention on the nomination and give its opponents a last chance to sway the public and the Senate.
He acknowledged some "divisions in the caucus" over the advisability of a filibuster, but he said the effort had the support of a few others, including Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip.
A spokesman for Mr. Durbin confirmed that he would vote against closing debate.
"It is an uphill climb at this point," Mr. Kennedy said of a filibuster. "But it is achievable."
Asked if Mr. Kerry's absence from the Senate would hinder their efforts, Mr. Kennedy said, "We'll do the best we can and make a good fight of it."
Mr. Kerry has been rallying his supporters against the nomination for weeks in mass e-mail messages and on his Web site.
And when the Democratic caucus met Wednesday to discuss the nomination, he gave an impassioned plea that the party should try to stage a filibuster even if it failed, people present said, speaking only if granted anonymity because the meeting was private. Some senators at the meeting said an unsuccessful filibuster would leave the party weakened for future battles.
Some said a messy and unsuccessful filibuster fight would distract from the Democratic focus on other issues like corruption in government and wiretapping by the Bush administration.
In the end the party leaders were not persuaded by Mr. Kerry's appeal.
Judge Alito's confirmation was looking increasingly certain Thursday. Two more Democrats, Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, said they would break party ranks to vote for confirmation.
Mr. Byrd said his constituents had told him they were "appalled" by the harsh questioning Judge Alito received from the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearings, calling them "an outrage and a disgrace."
With Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Byrd bring the number of Democrats pledging support for Judge Alito to three. The vote on confirmation is expected to hew closely to party lines. No Republicans have said they will vote against him.
Two Republican supporters of abortion rights, Senators Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, have not declared how they will vote.
Shortly after 7 p.m., Mr. Kerry issued a statement saying, "Judge Alito's confirmation would be an ideological coup on the Supreme Court."
"The president has every right to nominate Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court," Mr. Kerry said. "It's our right and our responsibility to oppose him vigorously."
A few moments later, April Boyd, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kerry, sent a postscript saying that "as things played out over the course of the day today" he had decided to fly home. "Kerry will be back in Washington tomorrow," Ms. Boyd said.