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Democrats Ramp Up for Sotomayor

White House officials are orchestrating the efforts of Vice President Joseph Biden, Senate Democrats and outside organizations to ensure confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor by the August recess, as Republicans search for comfortable ground from which to fight the nomination.

Republicans had focused much of their messaging on the need for a confirmation process comparable in timing to those of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, which lasted roughly two to three months.

But following Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) announcement that hearings will occur in mid-July — roughly within that timeline — Republicans shifted their argument to focus on the need to comb through Sotomayor’s extensive career and alleged deficiencies in her answers to the committee’s written questions.

At the same time, Democrats on and off Capitol Hill have, over the past 10 days, ramped up their support for Sotomayor. According to Senate Democratic aides, Stephanie Cutter, a top campaign operative for President Barack Obama in 2008, has put in place a political campaign-style operation to push Sotomayor’s nomination.

“They got Stephanie Cutter, what do you expect?— a senior Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday, explaining that the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) want to keep up the pressure to get the confirmation completed. “When you’re this close to the finish line, there’s no reason to let the gas up.—

Cutter and Reid’s office are in near constant contact and have mapped out detailed plans for the next eight weeks. Reid’s office put together a “media plan— for the Democratic leader, which includes both Nevada-specific efforts as well as broader national media events, such as his meeting last week with leaders from the National Council of La Raza and other Latino civil rights groups.

Biden held a press event at the White House on Tuesday with leaders of national law enforcement organizations to tout Sotomayor’s “tough on crime— credentials, while Senate Democrats have employed Reid’s nomination “war room— to counter GOP complaints regarding the timing of the hearings.

Cutter reportedly is also coordinating with the Democratic National Committee and its Organizing for America grass-roots campaign arm. The DNC on Tuesday sent an e-mail to the OFA’s list of supporters urging them to sign a “virtual cast— for Sotomayor, who broke her ankle early this week.

Republicans, meanwhile, have moved away from their calls for a specific length of time for the confirmation process and instead are making a broader case that her incomplete answers to the Judiciary Committee questionnaire and lengthy record require more time for review than Democrats are giving them.

“When it came to Republican nominees, like Judge Roberts and Judge Alito, our Democrat friends wanted time to review the record. And Republicans worked in a bipartisan fashion to come to a consensus on a fair process that respected the minority’s rights. Yet when it comes to a Democrat nominee our friends want to deny Republicans the same rights,— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) charged Wednesday.

“They want the shortest confirmation timeline in recent memory for someone with the longest judicial record in recent memory. This violates basic standards of fairness, and it prevents Senators from carrying out one of their most solemn duties,— McConnell added.

Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.), along with the other GOP committee members, on Wednesday sent a letter to Sotomayor asking for a raft of additional information.

In the letter, Sessions and his colleagues claim that Sotomayor failed to provide the committee with key information, including memos she helped write while working for a Puerto Rican civil rights organization and cases she was involved in while a district attorney in New York.

“Committee staff are reviewing your questionnaire responses and attachments and have noted a number of apparent omissions. In addition we believe that some of your responses are incomplete. In view of these concerns, we would respectfully ask that you revisit the questionnaire and provide another supplement as soon as possible. If you believe that your questionnaire is fully responsive, we would appreciate an explanation to that effect,— Sessions and his colleagues write.

A senior GOP leadership aide argued the shift is not so much a change in position as a response to Democrats’ efforts. The aide said Democrats are making the case that she is imminently qualified for the Supreme Court based on her lengthy record as a lawyer and a judge — but that there should be a relatively short, fixed length of time for Republicans to review that record. “They’re the ones that raised it,— the aide said.

What remains to be seen is whether Republicans will look to use procedural tactics to throw Democrats off their planned schedule. Republicans could decide to boycott Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, which would likely result in a delay of a week or more.

Additionally, Republicans could use the chamber’s rules to essentially slow down all work in the Senate if they choose to try to force Democrats into giving them more time.

Although Republicans did not take that option off the table, they said they remain focused on their review of her record and have yet to discuss any move to slow the nomination.

“There hasn’t been any discussion of that. Everyone is focused on her record,— the senior GOP aide said, adding that Leahy’s decision earlier this year to postpone hearings on the nomination of Eric Holder to become attorney general gives Republicans hope they may be able to win him over.

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