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Special Report

Senate Dems turn their back on Obama nominee

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 5, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Senators wishing to vote or change their vote. If not, the roll call vote on this is 47 yeas, 52 nays.  The motion fails.

MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: This nominee, however, was so unfit for the position in which he had been nominated that even seven Democrats couldn't support it.

HARRY REID, D-NEV., SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We were very close to getting this good man nominated. But when a number of people saw the vote not going a certain way, things always change.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, it was quite a stunning development today. Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bringing up this vote for a deputy attorney general in the civil rights division, Debo Adegbile, and the vote went down. It went down. Vice President Biden was positioned to break the tie, but the tie never came. And seven Democrats voted against cloture.

Remember, that back in -- we'll put up the seven Democrats who voted against it. Remember, back in November, the rules in the Senate were changed. They no longer needed 60 votes. They just need 50 plus one to move any nominee forward. They couldn't get that.

Let's bring in our panel. Jonah Goldberg, at large editor of National Review online, Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Jonah, this controversy centered around the legal work that Adegbile did for convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal, and back in 1981, the killing of an officer, Faulkner.  His widow came out with a statement saying she is especially grateful to the Democrats who broke ranks and had the courage to do the right thing.  "Debo Adegbile is the wrong person for the job. There have to be better people for the position. "

This was quite a moment on Capitol Hill today.

JONAH GOLDBERG, AT LARGE EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: It was a huge moment, and sort of the filibuster aspect of it is fascinating. It's also sort of fascinating to see that something has a huge half-life. If you're of a certain age, you don't remember Mumia Abu Jamal was sort of the dashboard saint not of liberals but the hard left. He was a real hero of the hard left. He was -- I spent a lot of time looking at this in the 1990s -- an absolutely, unequivocally guilty cop killer with witnesses and corroboration and a confession. But for some reason he became -- because he was so articulate and such a left wing activist -- he became a hero to a lot of people on the left.

And the Fraternal Order of Police, who were the prime actors in this, they felt they were utterly burned by this administration because they weren't consulted on this guy who was sort of radioactive for all these obvious reasons, and they felt they were going to get their pound of flesh out of this, and they did. It wasn't Republicans who killed this. It was the FOP putting it in the Democrats' faces, and the Democrats chickened out.

BAIER: The president put out a statement, the White House put out a statement. "The Senate's failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the civil rights division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile qualifications are impeccable." Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: I think the thing you have to remember is he didn't pick out this person to defend. He was heading up the NAACP legal defense fund, who had taken the case on before he was there, and then he became involved in an appeal where they convinced a federal judge to not reinstate the death penalty.

So this isn't like he went out looking for this person, but I do happen to believe that the people deserve defenses. And if there were bad jury instructions, that's what they actually convinced the judge of, that's a reasonable thing to do. And I think a lot of people are confused by why this guy has been attacked the way he has. But John Roberts represented somebody who ultimately was executed for one of the worst mass murders in Florida, killed eight people, bound and gagged, shot, went out and killed two teenagers on the way to church. And I think everybody understood that John Roberts didn't support that person, that this is what lawyers do. They defend people.

BAIER: His critics, Adegbile's critics, say it went beyond the legal work and it was more about political rallies and leading rallies for Mumia and kind of became more political in his support for this character that became a liberal, as Jonah said.

POWERS: I think that, without re-litigating the whole case, Jonah is saying he was unequivocally guilty. I don't think that the NAACP legal defense fund probably agrees with that.

GOLDBERG: They actually never want to talk about the actual guilt.

POWERS: No, they said -- the reason they took on his case is because they said they thought there was racial injustice happening.

GOLDBERG: They thought it was a bad trial. They never took a stand -- they never took a stand on his actual guilt. They said it was a bad trial. That's a different legal argument. But even Mumia Abu Jamal --

POWERS: If he's so blatantly guilty, as you're describing it, then I don't understand. Unfair trial?

GOLDBERG: Guilty people can get bad trials, too.

POWERS: But the idea that he should -- I don't understand your argument. They're saying he is getting -- there's racial injustice in the trial. Why can't they prove it without racial injustice?

GOLDBERG: My point is it was an appeal for procedural grounds.

POWERS: Make your case without racial injustice. He was blatantly guilty.

BAIER: Let's not re-litigate the trial.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Is this a private fight or can I get it?

BAIER: What I want to do is get into the politics of this and the logistics of Harry Reid calling this up for a vote and losing and the cost it may cost these vulnerable red-state Democrats who voted yes for this person who the national organizations, a lot of police organizations were really adamant that he not get through, and here are these vulnerable red- state Democrats who cast the vote yes. There's not a lot of nuance in commercials.

KRAUTHAMMER: They're going to get hurt. They're already reeling from ObamaCare. They're reeling from a president whose numbers are low and in the sixth year. If the president's numbers are low, the congressional candidates in the Senate and House really suffer, and now this is not going to help.

This is kind of a neuralgic issue. It's not sophisticated or abstract in some ways like reforming health care. This is a cop killer, in general, a complicated issue. People have a right to represent on principle even the worst of defenders, and I think it's true in this particular case he didn't choose the case. It was already there.        

But I am -- the one thing that sways it here is he participated in rallies. And I don't think -- it's not as if he should, you know, this candidate ought to be denied free speech or anything, but I don't think he has a right to head the civil rights division. If you're going to head that and you participated in rallies in defense of somebody dually found guilty of killing a cop -- and I did have a look at some of the evidence.  It's pretty open and shut. And I can understand why this would not be the person you would want. Perhaps the secretary of the department of, you know, of transportation, but not on a neuralgic position where you have to interact with cops all the time. I think it's the right decision, and those Democrats who voted no, I think it went the right way.

BAIER: At the risk of a Jeff Sessions moment, yes or no, do they bring him back up?

KRAUTHAMMER: No, not in this election year for sure.

GOLDBERG: Absolutely not.

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