Tales from the Trail

To reach Supreme Court, first court the senators

Elena Kagan is making the rounds.

To get a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, a nominee must first wear out a lot of shoe leather on Capitol Hill. And smile, smile, smile.

USA/So that’s precisely what President Barack Obama’s choice for the high court has been doing this week. While Kagan is considered likely to get Senate confirmation, nothing is ever guaranteed in this process – remember President George W. Bush’s nominee Harriet Miers?

The other hard-and-fast rule of these Hill chats is that afterward the senators talk, the Supreme Court nominee doesn’t.

So let’s take a look at what the senators took away from their meetings with Kagan.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who used to be a Republican, said Kagan agreed with him that the court takes too few cases and erred this year in a landmark ruling that struck down campaign finance limits. “She said she felt that the court was not sufficiently deferential to Congress” in the Citizens United case, Specter said.

Obama picks “Shorty” for Supreme Court

Elena Kagan rose to the occasion — literally — stepping up onto a riser behind the podium so she would be closer to eye level with the President and Vice President of the United States on either side of her.

President Barack Obama, looking quite pleased with himself, introduced her as his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy opened by the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens.  USA-COURT/

“She has often referred to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked, as her hero,” Obama said. “I understand that he reciprocated by calling her ‘Shorty’.”

Healthcare reform debate: Is it “czar” or “czarina”?

It is day four of the Senate Finance Committee consideration of a sweeping overhaul of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system in an effort to rein in soaring costs and expand medical coverage to millions of uninsured people. The debate has turned to White House czars. RUSSIA

This is a hot topic among conservatives who complain that these White House positions wield great power but are not subject to public scrutiny or Senate confirmation. As advisers to the president they also cannot be called to testify before Congress.

Republican Senator John Ensign proposed an amendment to the healthcare legislation that requires Senate confirmation of any White House health czar, in this case Nancy Ann Deparle, counselor to the president and Director of the White House Office of Health Reform. The problem with requiring Senate confirmation is that there is no government position called “czar,” argued opponents to the measure.