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Stephanie Villafuerte nomination: A shot across the bow

In a Senate judiciary committee hearing yesterday, Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, quizzed Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano about the firing of ICE agent Cory Voorhis. (The exchange can be seen in the video above; it begins at approximately the six minute point.)

But is Sessions, who tries a variety of pronunciations of Voorhis' name without coming close to the correct one, really all that interested in this particular case? In all likelihood, the real target of his comments was Stephanie Villafuerte, President Barack Obama's choice for U.S. Attorney. The judiciary committee will decide what happens next with Villafuerte's nomination, and Sessions, the ranking Republican, is sending a message that he'll ask questions about the current controversy swirling around her if given half a chance.

Around the same time Sessions was mangling Voorhis' name, Examiner.com blogger (and political partisan) Jan Tyler's post floating the question of whether Governor Bill Ritter and Villafuerte had or are having an affair was making the rounds.

Tyler's information is based on "a source who chooses not to disclose their identity," which doesn't constitute proof by even the most minimal standards -- and that's an absolute requirement in cases like these, as pointed out in this space yesterday. A claim by a person who won't even allow his or her name to be used isn't exactly on par with a photo in front of the Monkey Business.

At this point, though, the affair rumor only adds to the political risks now facing the Villafuerte nomination. With Sessions' Voorhis rap implying that he might push for a hearing on the nom, the pro-Villafuerte forces have more evidence than ever that the anointment process could get ugly.

Republicans clearly scent blood in the water. They recognize an opportunity to embarrass both Obama and Ritter, who's up for reelection in 2010 and is perceived as vulnerable.

Will Villafuerte stand pat and fight for the position? Or will she withdraw, citing her disinterest in becoming a distraction? The decision could go either way -- and it may well come sooner rather than later.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts