Sotomayor, senators engage in small talk

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s private meetings with senators on Capitol Hill have included conversations about her personal background, legal career, judicial philosophy — and her taste for chili.

Now totaling more than 80 separate meetings, Sotomayor is approaching the end of a furious pace of sit-down talks with as many as eight senators a day and despite a broken ankle.

A stranger to many members who weren’t in office when the Senate last voted on her for a federal judgeship in 1998, senators say Sotomayor has mastered the art of finding connections with them in advance of her July 13 confirmation hearings.
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With Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 MORE (D-N.M.), Sotomayor discussed her favorite recipes for Southwestern chili. With Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties MORE (R-S.D.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), she talked up the New York Yankees. With Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties Senate faces protracted floor fight over judges amid pandemic safety concerns MORE (D-Mo.), a former prosecutor, she discussed the dynamic of gender in the judicial system.

And Sotomayor simply commiserated with Oregon Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse | Trump administration awards tech group contract to build 'virtual' wall | Advocacy groups urge Congress to ban facial recognition technologies Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic proposal to extend 0 unemployment checks MORE (D) over the pace of her schedule.

“I asked her, ‘Judge, doesn’t it meet the definition of cruel and unusual punishment to have to meet so many senators in one day?’ ” Wyden said. “She said, ‘Yes, I believe it does.’ ”

Several senators broke the ice by ribbing Sotomayor for her support of the Yankees. Conrad, who is not a Yankees fan, said he told Sotomayor her nomination “is going to be a steep mountain to climb.”

Sotomayor’s meetings have ranged from 30 to 45 minutes, with more time occasionally allotted for Judiciary Committee members and senior senators like Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell warns Democrats not to change filibuster rule Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Trump wants executive order on policing; silent on pending bills MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project ACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Carville repeats prediction that Trump will drop out of race MORE (R-Ky.).

Since breaking her ankle at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on June 8, Sotomayor walks with two crutches and her right ankle encased in a black orthopedic boot, traveling with a small team of aides and guards. U.S. Capitol Police monitor her closely, escorting her through the hallways and waiting outside her meetings with the senators.

She has used the injury to compare medical notes with several senators — including Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who is wearing a wrist brace after tearing a ligament in his right hand, and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators push to limit transfer of military-grade equipment to police MORE (R-Alaska), who injured her leg in a skiing accident.

“We joked that we needed to invite Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarville repeats prediction that Trump will drop out of race What's behind Trump's slump? Americans are exhausted, for one thing Trump campaign reserves air time in New Mexico MORE,” Murkowski said, referring to the secretary of state’s recent elbow injury.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperHillicon Valley: Facebook to label 'newsworthy' posts that violate policies | Unilever to pull ads from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram | FEC commissioner steps down Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases MORE (D-Del.) broke the ice by plugging a product from his state — a motorized scooter for those with leg or foot injuries, manufactured by a company in southern Delaware. Carper used the device two years ago after breaking his foot.

“I told her, ‘I have an idea for you that will put a smile on your face,’ ” Carper said. “My staff wouldn’t let me bring one for her, but I at least got to give it a plug.”

Several senators have used their meetings with Sotomayor to make pitches of their own.

A few Republicans pressed her on whether she will avoid judicial activism. Former Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) pressed her to promote the idea of cameras inside the Supreme Court.

Iowa Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinErnst challenges Greenfield to six debates in Iowa Senate race Biden unveils disability rights plan: 'Your voices must be heard' Bottom line MORE (D), an original author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, had his staff research Sotomayor’s past judicial decisions in disability cases and asked her to promote televised closed-captioning. Harkin, whose brother is deaf, passed a law three years ago to require closed-captioning and said he has since learned that it is used by many Americans without hearing problems.

“She started laughing and said, ‘Yeah, I use that many times too,’ ” Harkin said.

Colorado Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Democratic presidential race comes into sharp focus Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump MORE (D) said Sotomayor came prepared with research on his family’s political history, adding that he pressed her to promote jury service and bone up on Western issues, like land and resource matters.

Udall said Sotomayor told him that when she met with President Obama, the commander in chief asked her opinion of the most critical issue likely to face the judicial system in the coming years.

“She said she told him ‘water issues,’ and that he was surprised until she explained to him about its impact on population pressures, development pressures, boundary disputes, property rights and issues,” Udall said.

Senators say the meetings are a typical balance between small talk and meatier subjects like the confirmation process and her judicial philosophy. The most serious criticism of her nomination — her suggestion in a 2001 speech that Latinas may have better judicial fitness than white men — has also been a common topic, even among Democratic senators.

“I wanted to satisfy myself that she wanted to be an adjudicator, not a legislator,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “So we had that discussion.”

Several Republicans said they actually avoided questioning Sotomayor about the 2001 remark, preferring to save the issue for the public hearings.

“I told her I intended to ask her hard questions up front so she can get them out of the way,” Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDACA remains in place, but Dreamers still in limbo Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) said.
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Included among the 15 to 20 senators with whom Sotomayor has not yet met is 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden Democrats lead in three battleground Senate races: poll Republican Scott Taylor wins Virginia primary, to face Elaine Luria in rematch MORE (R-Ariz.), although McCain on Wednesday told The Hill he would be happy to do so.

However, GOP Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (Okla.) said this week he sees no reason to meet with Sotomayor, since he opposed her for the federal bench in 1998.

“The bar gets higher for a higher court, not lower,” Inhofe said.