Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, word is three tough days of questioning did little to sidetrack Judge Samuel Alito’s likely confirmation to the Supreme Court, although Democrats may now move to slow his nomination.  But have Democrats done themselves any good by this hammering away, this aggressive questioning of Alito?

Tim Russert:  This was Judge Alito’s nomination to lose and he did not lose it.  He was able to present himself as a conservative judge, but not a conservative zealot.  He was able to deflect questions when they asked him for his legal opinions and to avoid any kind of answers that could be interpreted as “non-judicial.

I think the judiciary committee will report him out, probably along party lines, 10-8.  He’ll go to the Senate floor where he’ll probably receive at least 60 votes and he will be the next justice of the Supreme Court.

MSNBC:  Do you think any member of the U.S. Senate believes a greater understanding of the nominee was achieved through all of this?

Russert:  I don’t think so.  As much as the Democrats tried to draw him out as how he might view cases in the future, he resisted - but he did it in an amiable way. 

After the first day of hearings, many of the liberal groups called and emailed Democratic Senators, saying, “Hey, come on.  Ratchet it up.”

It appears the Democratic senators decided to use the hearings as a vehicle to talk to minorities and women and others that are an important part of their constituency.  They realized, I think, after the first day of the hearings, that any hope of derailing Judge Alito had pretty much evaporated.

MSNBC:  It seems now there will be two solid blocks that will be on the Supreme Court.  Is there anyone left who can be considered a swing vote?

Russert:   It depends on the kind of case – certainly Judge Kennedy.  But that’s a very important point.  After the disastrous nomination of Harriet Miers, President George W. Bush regained his footing with Judge Alito.  He can now say to his supporters, “I reshaped the Supreme Court.”

With Judge Roberts and Judge Alito, he will have shifted the balance and made a conservative imprint on the court for decades and perhaps generations to come.  It’s something George W. bush promised conservatives during his campaign for the presidency and it looks like he delivered for them

MSNBC:  What do you make of Delaware Democratic Senator Joe Biden’s suggestion that maybe we should go back to the way they used to deal with nominations a long time ago:  skip these hearings and just debate it on the floor of the Senate with an up or down vote?

Russert:  I do think the process is broken.  It’s the kind of situation where people understand a judge is not going to answer questions about what he is going to do in the future, as long as he has enough voted to be confirmed, he will not say anything to jeopardize his situation.

MSNBC:  What will you be talking about Sunday, on Meet the Press?

Russert:  We’re going to shift to Iraq.

Paul Bremer, who in effect governed that country for a year, is the author of a new book that says some surprising things about his relationship with President George W. Bush and United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – and about the number of American troops and the intensity of the insurgency.

There’s a lot more in the book and we’ll explore that on Sunday.

Plus, it’s Martin Luther King Day on Monday.  We’re going talk about the state of Black America – both good and bad - with John McWhorter, author of “Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America”, Taylor Branch, author of “At Canaan’s Edge” and Marian Wright Edelman, Founder of the Children’s Defense fund.

All Sunday, on Meet the Press.

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