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 UdallDemocrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Republicans should get behind the 28th Amendment New Mexico says EPA abandoned state in fight against toxic 'forever chemicals' MORE (D-N.M.), Sotomayor discussed her favorite recipes for Southwestern chili. With Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-S.D.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), she talked up the New York Yankees. With Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand 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 WydenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity 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 Reid2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Panel: How Biden's gaffes could cost him against Trump MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report 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 MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief Congress kicks bipartisan energy innovation into higher gear MORE (R-Alaska), who injured her leg in a skiing accident.

“We joked that we needed to invite Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate Progressive Democrats' turnout plans simply don't add up MORE,” Murkowski said, referring to the secretary of state’s recent elbow injury.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction FARA should apply to Confucius Institutes The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal 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 HarkinWisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed Democratic debates kick off Iowa summer sprint Key endorsements: A who's who in early states 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 Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Democrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate  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 HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators 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 McCainFighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire MORE (R-Ariz.), although McCain on Wednesday told The Hill he would be happy to do so.

However, GOP Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDemocrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador 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.