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Kagan's First Day

The first day for any nominee to a federal post, particularly the Supreme Court, can be a daunting proposition.  Legions of televisions cameras, still cameras, radio mics, and reporters following your every move, waiting for any utterance.

By all accounts, Elena Kagan appeared to come through the process unscathed.  Clearly, the hot issues for members on Day 1 of her courtesy calls (there were eight) was her article in the 1990's in which she called the confirmation process "vapid" and "a charade."  This former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer said nominees needed to answer more questions; the process needed, essentially, to be more substantive, something the Majority Whip, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Wednesday dubbed "the Kagan standard."

Durbin said Kagan acknowledged what she once said but also noted that, in Durbin's words, "The world looks a little different from this vantage point. I think she will be as candid as she can be. but there are limits."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, who got the last visit of Kagan's eight hour day (we could only imagine she had about a 1/2 hour for lunch), gleefully looked forward to a nominee speaking more candidly.   Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, said Kagan also talked about this article and said she wanted her hearings to be a "teachable moment" for Americans, but also added, "She said she had not yet met with the White House vetters, so maybe that will change."

Her toughest stop of the day was with the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions. After an hour-long meeting, the Alabama senator emerged to say the two had a "delightful" meeting. They touched on Kagan's tenure as dean of Harvard Law in which she denied military recruiters access on campus because of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  Sessions said Kagan's response "seemed to be a little out of touch," though he said he was going to talk to her more about it.

The  nominee studiously avoided any contact with the press, though by stop #7 of her 8 stops, she cracked.  When asked by a cameraman if she had enjoyed her day, she offered, "Everybody's treated me very well." She paused and then said, grinning, "That's the most I've said all day" - and then laughed.

One Senate GOP staffer said Kagan seemed very talkative and amiable. The two discussed baseball and when the staffer said she had grown up in Boston but rooted for the New York Yankees, Kagan, a native of the Big Apple,  said, "That's sacrilegious!"

Durbin offered a window into Kagan that was not previously known.  The two talked about life in Chicago when she was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and the nominee, according to Durbin, said she liked Medici Pizza in Hyde Park, a brick oven pizza join.  She also loves Chicago hot dogs and watching baseball at Wrigley Field. Apparently, she's also partial to the cinnamon rolls from Ann Sather.

Durbin nearly walked into it when he was asked if Kagan was a Mets fan or a Sox fan.  He walked a fine line telling reporters, "She said originally she was a Mets fan, but then she became partial to the Sox when she went up to Boston" but that she loved both teams.   Sports gaffe avoided.

A number of Republicans have complained about Kagan's lack of experience in the courtroom, with just a short stint as Solicitor General, and it seems many of the senators who saw Kagan today brought that up.

Sessions said she had a "thin" resume; Durbin countered that she'd shown from her experience that she has a "thorough knowledge of the law."

When asked about some criticism from the left that Kagan hired no blacks when at Harvard, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, who met with Kagan for about a half hour, left that door open. "That's going to be a legitimate question at the hearing."  But he said ultimately, it's the judgment of the senators that really matters.  "We're going to see a lot of groups who have concerns...on what her views may be on what positions she's taken, but ultimately for this nation of 300 million Americans, there's only 100 of us who get to vote on her and we have to make up our mind."

Interestingly, it was Kagan herself who brought up another issue of diversity on the current court.  If Kagan is added, there would be four New Yorkers, all Ivy Leaguers, no Protestants.  Sessions said she brought this up with him.   About the four New Yorkers, Sessions, in his southern drawl, said, "That's a bit much probably."

For his part, Durbin offered a solution. "You mean whether I think there should be an Irish Lithuanian from East St Louis who graduated from Georgetown Law?"  Of course, that would be the senator, himself.  In all seriousness, though, Durbin said, "I don't think we're looking for quotas, we're looking more to the person," adding that it should be someone with "good life experience."  

Whether or not someone who grew up on the Upper West side, attended Ivy League schools, and lived in Hyde Park in Chicago has had that will be the judgment of the 100 members in the Senate chamber, a vote that most senators agree should come before the August recess.

With a sigh of relief, telling reporters, "It's been a long day" - Kagan headed off the Hill.   In just a handful of hours before she'll be back up here, again.  Her first meeting Thursday is with Sen. Arlen Specter, D-PA, the one Democrat to vote against her as Solicitor General.