Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan kicked off day two of her Senate tour Tuesday, meeting with Sen. Arlen Specter, a key Judiciary Committee member who as a Republican voted against her confirmation as solicitor general last year.
Most Democrats and Republicans expect the Pennsylvania Democrat to ultimately back Kagan — it would be highly embarrassing for President Barack Obama’s nominee to have even nominally bipartisan opposition at the committee level.
And while Specter, who has remained coy about whether he will support Kagan’s nomination, continued to decline to say specifically how he will vote, he did offer her praise and said the meeting made him more comfortable with the idea of voting for her.
“When we talked about Citizens United, she was an advocate” for the government’s position, Specter said, referring to the Supreme Court campaign finance case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. “I thought it was a very good meeting and she was very forthcoming,” he added.
Specter called Kagan’s academic credentials “excellent” but warned that “doesn’t constitute a commitment on a vote. But she’s a good candidate.”
In the last week, Specter’s opponent in next week’s Democratic primary, Rep. Joe Sestak — who immediately endorsed Kagan’s nomination when it was announced Monday — has drawn to a tie with Specter in most polls. Sestak has made the senior Senator’s opposition to Kagan’s solicitor general nomination a key issue in the campaign’s waning days.
Specter, however, dismissed those criticisms, attacking Sestak for endorsing Kagan before the hearings. “He might want to rush to judgment but I take these things seriously,” Specter said.
Kagan first met with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) Thursday morning and was scheduled to meet with Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) as the day progressed.
Republican leaders are having difficulty finding a line of attack on Kagan’s nomination that their entire Conference can be comfortable with.
Rank-and-file Members were largely rejecting efforts to paint her as a potentially bad fit for the court because of a lack of judicial experience, and by Wednesday leadership had shifted its attacks.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other leaders Wednesday opened a new line of attack on Kagan, questioning whether her position as solicitor general will make it impossible for her to impartially judge the Obama administration.
“As a Supreme Court justice, Ms. Kagan’s job description would change dramatically. Far from being a member of the president’s team, she’d suddenly be serving as a check on it,” the Kentucky Republican said in a floor speech Wednesday before going on to question whether the White House was hoping to have a rubber stamp on the court.
“It’s my hope that the Obama administration doesn’t think the ideal Supreme Court nominee is someone who would rubber stamp its policies,” McConnell continued. “But this nomination does raise the question. And it’s a question that needs to be answered. Americans want to know that Ms. Kagan will be independent, that she won’t prejudge cases based on her personal opinions, that she’ll treat everyone equally, as the judicial oath requires.”
But at least two key Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), dismissed that argument.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but I don’t think it is” a problem, Coburn said Wednesday when asked about the criticism. Graham was more blunt. “Oh come on. Listen, who do you expect a Democratic president to nominate?” he said.
Graham pointed out that GOP presidents in the past have nominated candidates who had served in Republican administrations and that at the end of the day, “what we’re looking for is people who may have a different philosophy than I do” but who are still qualified to serve on the court.