Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday launched her campaign to convince senators she’s worthy of a lifetime appointment, and at least one GOP member of the Judiciary Committee acknowledged her confirmation is all but a foregone conclusion.
But the Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, who requested anonymity, said the final tally will depend on her performance in the months ahead.
The Republican lawmaker noted that the GOP will focus on Sotomayor’s temperament while on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and said if she lets her temper flare during confirmation hearings, it would erode GOP support.
Sotomayor worked to dispel any concerns in her meetings on Tuesday, and received a positive review from arguably the most important GOP member controlling her fate.
“She was engaging and animated and we had a good discussion,” said Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsSanders: 'What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?' Poll: Trump controversies make him more popular among supporters More than ever, Justice must demand a special prosecutor for Trump-Russia probe MORE (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, at a news conference after their private meeting. “I enjoyed it, and I think she did.
“Temperament is a factor in a judge’s qualifications — I think that’s pretty clear in most of the evaluation process as you go through, but I don’t think that it’s been established that she has a bad temperament,” he added. “I think that’s something that evidence may show as time goes by, one way or the other.”
Earlier in the day, Sotomayor explained to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyLive coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing Dems land few punches on Gorsuch Live coverage: Day two of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (D-Vt.) her controversial comment from 2001 that suggested “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences” has better inherent legal judgment than “a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
Leahy left satisfied with her answer. (Read the questionnaire from Leahy and Sessions that Sotomayor must fill out.)
“What she said was of course one’s life experience shapes who you are, but ultimately and completely — and she used those words, ‘ultimately and completely’ — as a judge, you follow the law.
Leahy lauded Sotomayor as a judge in the mold of retiring Justice David Souter, “with a great mind” and “impeccable” credentials, and blasted conservative critics such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) who have seized on that comment to accuse her of being a racist.
Leahy said the attacks might prompt him to speed up the schedule for hearings and give the nominee a chance to respond to the charges. Leahy said the committee would hold hearings no sooner than July but said it would be “irresponsible” to delay the proceedings until September.
The White House said Tuesday it would like the hearings to start by mid-July.
Sessions said he would prefer that the hearings take place in September, noting the high court’s fall term does not begin until Oct. 5. Leahy and Sessions are planning to meet Wednesday morning to hammer out a schedule.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE (D-Nev.) pronounced himself “absolutely convinced” of Sotomayor’s qualifications and said “she made clear in that meeting that she is a person who is going to be a fantastic, superb Supreme Court justice.”
Sotomayor also met on Tuesday with Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings Gorsuch: I'm 'sorry' for ruling against autistic student MORE (Ill.), Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Sens. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerThe Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder Gorsuch hearings: A referendum on Originalism and corporate power MORE (D-N.Y.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenators demand Pentagon action after nude photo scandal Chelsea Clinton to be honored by Variety, Lifetime Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward MORE (D-N.Y.), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Finance: US preps cases linking North Korea to Fed heist | GOP chair says Dodd-Frank a 2017 priority | Chamber pushes lawmakers on Trump's trade pick | Labor nominee faces Senate US Chamber urges quick vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (R-Utah) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinHuman rights leaders warn against confirming Gorsuch Feinstein sees slipping support among California voters: poll Schumer a no on Gorsuch, will urge Dems to oppose MORE (D-Calif.).
The Third Branch Conference, a coalition of conservatives including David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; and Gary Bauer, president of American Values, signed a letter to GOP leaders urging them to consider a filibuster of Sotomayor. The effort was organized by Third Branch Chairman Manuel Miranda.
But Republican leaders, even those who voted against Sotomayor’s nomination to the 2nd Circuit in 1998, pledged to keep an open mind.
“That was then and this is now,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Trump threatens to leave ObamaCare in place if GOP bill fails Senate GOP hedges on ObamaCare repeal timeline Chao: Trump tapped into 'a strain of anxiety,' 'fear' MORE (Ky.). “I’m willing to look at this nomination afresh and look at all of the cases, as we’ve been suggesting, and make a judgment after we have all the facts.”
Eleven sitting Republican senators voted against Sotomayor in 1998: McConnell, Sessions, Kyl and Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.), Mike EnziMike EnziTop Dem: Trump's State Dept. cuts a 'Ponzi scheme' Republicans eye strategy for repealing Wall Street reform Lawmakers fundraise amid rising town hall pressure MORE (Wyo.), Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFriends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing Live coverage: Day two of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (Iowa), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), James InhofeJames InhofeRepeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate GOP senator: EPA 'brainwashing our kids' A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (Okla.), John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal Senate lawmakers eye hearing next week for Air Force secretary: report House Intel chairman under fire from all sides MORE (Ariz.), Pat RobertsPat RobertsDems mock House GOP over lack of women in healthcare meeting Perdue vows to be chief salesman for US agriculture abroad GOP senator apologizes for mammogram joke MORE (Kan.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.).
Seven sitting GOP senators voted for Sotomayor a decade ago. They are Hatch and Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah), Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Defense: FBI chief confirms Trump campaign, Russia probe | Senators push for Afghan visas | Problems persist at veterans' suicide hotline Senators ask to include visas for Afghans in spending bill Shutdown politics return to the Senate MORE (Miss.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsFive takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (Maine), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).
Gregg and Lugar said they were not certain whether they would support her again and that it would depend on a review of her record and her answers in meetings.
“I’m looking forward to the hearing and visiting with her,” said Lugar.
Hispanic groups are planning campaigns in the home states of several GOP senators to pressure them to support Sotomayor.
Republican strategists say their party must proceed carefully to avoid giving President Obama a bigger advantage among Hispanic voters, a gain that could help him significantly in 2012.
McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, saw the GOP’s share of Hispanic votes drop precipitously after a vicious intra-party fight over immigration.
“Language and tone matter,” said Danny Diaz, who served as communications director for the Republican National Committee in 2008.
“The way that this [Supreme Court nomination] debate is conducted is being watched very closely by an absolutely critical segment of the electorate, and we will be judged in the eyes of many by how we handle this nomination.”
J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this article.