Kagan Courts Support On The Hill

Elena Kagan shakes hands with Harry Reid i i

hide captionSupreme Court nominee Elena Kagan shakes hands with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid while visiting with members of the Senate on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Elena Kagan shakes hands with Harry Reid

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan shakes hands with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid while visiting with members of the Senate on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan headed to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to begin a series of job interviews.

Kagan, the U.S. solicitor general, met privately with Senate leaders and with members of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold her confirmation hearing.

It was no surprise that the first senator Kagan met with was the leader of the Democratic majority, Harry Reid. And it was also no surprise that Reid had some very nice things to say about her.

"I told my staff after I met with her, I was so impressed with her," Reid said. "She is a brilliant woman. ... She's excelled academically since she was a little kid. I just like her background — her mother was a teacher, her dad was a lawyer, but a very small, two-man firm."

While the majority leader played up Kagan's scholarship and middle-class roots, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell played up the fact that Kagan is a member of the Obama administration who has never been a judge.

"She's never had to develop the judicial habit of saying no to an administration, and we can't simply assume that she would," he said on the Senate floor shortly before meeting with her.

Not all key Senate Republicans are so skeptical.

"Who do you expect a Democratic president to nominate? Someone who is of their philosophy, who is more liberal than a Republican would," said South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, who was the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee who voted to send President Obama's last nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, to the high court. "If you want conservative judges, vote for conservative presidents. ... What I want is qualified people. It's OK to be liberal."

But what's not OK, says the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, Jeff Sessions, is that five years ago Kagan restricted military recruiters' access to the campus of Harvard Law School, where she was dean. She did so after an appeals court found the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy unconstitutional.

"It seems to me a little bit out of touch that you think you could disagree with the legal policy of the military, and that would allow you to in any way inhibit their ability to come to your campus," the Alabama senator said after meeting with Kagan. "I think that indicates some of the dangers of being in the rarefied atmosphere of the academy."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said he discussed the matter with Kagan on Wednesday and was satisfied with what she told him.

"I don't think that anybody's ever had a difficulty with talking to recruiters of any of our services at Harvard," Leahy said.

Kagan's courtesy calls are to continue through the week.

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