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 UdallOvernight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses Hillicon Valley: House Judiciary opens antitrust probe of tech giants | Senate to receive election security briefing | Quest Diagnostics breach exposes data on 11.9 million patients | House sets hearing on 'deepfakes' MORE (D-N.M.), Sotomayor discussed her favorite recipes for Southwestern chili. With Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump's border funding comes back from the dead Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices MORE (R-S.D.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), she talked up the New York Yankees. With Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world 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 WydenOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Senate passes bipartisan IRS modernization bill 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 ReidTrump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Impeachment will reelect Trump MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale 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 MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Klobuchar, Murkowski introduce legislation to protect consumer health data MORE (R-Alaska), who injured her leg in a skiing accident.

“We joked that we needed to invite Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally It's about the delegates, stupid MORE,” Murkowski said, referring to the secretary of state’s recent elbow injury.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperBipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Prosecutors drop charges over Flint water crisis | US blames Iran for attack on oil tankers | Air Force diverted M for chemical cleanup costs | Criminal cases referred by Interior at near 25-year low 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 HarkinStop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave The FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate Wisconsin lawmaker refuses to cut hair until sign-language bill passes 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 UdallDemocrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate  Democrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate  Denver Post editorial board says Gardner endorsement was 'mistake' 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 Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer Trump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify 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 McCain#JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday #JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday New poll finds little GOP support for spending cuts to specific federal programs MORE (R-Ariz.), although McCain on Wednesday told The Hill he would be happy to do so.

However, GOP Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Shanahan: 'No concerns' about FBI background check for nomination 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.