Kagan Assuages Concerns on Day 2

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan started her second day of courtesy calls on Capitol Hill even earlier, but the day was decidedly easier for her, and she appears to have smoothed out some wrinkles in her path toward confirmation.

Kagan met for about 45 minutes with the one Democrat to vote against her nomination as Solicitor General, Arlen Specter, though he was a Republican when he did so.  His biggest criticism then was her lack of candor, but Specter says Kagan was more forthcoming in their closed-door meeting today.

Kagan answered questions directly about the Citizens United campaign finance case she argued on behalf of the government, Specter recalled.

"She said the Court was not sufficiently deferential to Congress," noted Specter with praise.

As well, the wily senator, a former prosecutor, said Kagan stood by her Chicago Law Review article in the 1990's in which she criticized the confirmation hearings as "vapid."

"She stood by 'charade,'" Specter said, quoting from the article.

Allaying the senator's concerns further, Specter said Kagan singled out one previous nominee to the high court who is now a sitting justice as an example of someone who was not forthcoming, though Specter declined to say who.

Specter is in a tough primary campaign back home, with his opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, attacking him for his previous position on Kagan.  And the incumbent has some tough words for the congressman.

"Every move I make, he's trying to politicize. He might want to rush to judgment before...knowing what the facts are," Specter said, "But I take these (hearings) very seriously. I have a long record on these."

Normally, a nominee meets with the entire Judiciary Committee before branching out, but on Thursday, Kagan worked in a key moderate, Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, a charter member of the "Gang of 14," the bipartisan Senate group that brokered a compromise on President George W. Bush's judicial nominees, creating an informal standard whereby only "extraordinary circumstances" warrant a filibuster.

And Collins had some good news, for now, for the White House. "At this point, I do not see 'extraordinary circumstances' I use as a standard to determine a filibuster."

Collins, a pro-choice Republican, said she asked Kagan a question she has asked every nominee who has come before her, whether or not the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision was an established precedent.  Kagan clearly satisfied Collins with her answer, with the senator recounting, "She did consider Roe v. Wade to be settled law."

And Collins, like nearly ever senator with whom Kagan has met, wanted to talk about that law review article, with a stapled copy sitting in her lap for reporters to see as we were escorted in for the top of the meeting.

In a light-hearted moment, Collins declared the article, "Very provocative. We're going to apply the same 'Kagan standard' to all nominees?"

Kagan, practically through closed lips, quietly said, "I'm not gonna answer that with all these people here."  Laughter erupted in the room, as the nominee has studiously avoided any substantive comments within earshot of the media.

The press entourage following Kagan's every move was less than half of what it was on day one, that is, until we got to the office of freshman Sen. Scott Brown, R-MA.  Dozens of reporters and cameras packed into the small office, with Kagan telling Brown of her week, "It's been a whirlwind."

Afterward, Brown, a military lawyer in the Massachusetts National Guard, said he was satisfied with Kagan's answer on military recruiters barred from Harvard Law's campus during her tenure as dean.

"It is clear to me, we spoke about it at length, that she is supportive of the men and women who are fighting to protect us and very supportive of the military as a whole. I do not feel that her judicial philosophy will be hurting the men and women who are serving," Brown said.

"I'm looking forward to a fair, open, and respectful" process Brown added. The senator, who is also not on the Judiciary Committee, received a personal phone call from President Obama before he nominated Kagan. Clearly, the White House sees Brown as a gettable vote, and the senator certainly showed no signs of discouraging that thought.

Kagan's last meeting of the day was with one of the Judiciary Committee's newest members, Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, who spoke glowingly of the nominee afterward, predicting that Kagan would be "an intellectual counterweight" to Chief Justice John Roberts.

The weary nominee now gets a long weekend to take stock of her journey thus far, to gear up for next week's meetings, and perhaps to take some time to fill out the committee's lengthy questionnaire, which can be seen here.