Sen. Reid Praises Sotomayor As 'The Whole Package'

June 2, 2009 - 10:43 AM
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Washington (AP) - The Senate's top Democrat praised federal judge Sonia Sotomayor Tuesday as an extraordinarily well-qualified Supreme Court nominee whose background as an "underdog" appeals to Americans.
 
"We have the whole package here," Reid said, seated beside Sotomayor as the two began a meeting in his Capitol office. He called her life story "compelling."
 
"Americans identify with underdog, and you've been an underdog many times in your life," Reid said of Sotomayor, the New York-born daughter of Puerto Rican parents who would be the first Hispanic and the third woman on the high court.
 
The visit was the start of a daylong schedule of meet-and-greets with Republicans and Democrats designed to let senators get to know President Barack Obama's nominee before they debate confirming her.
 
Sotomayor is also slated to meet the top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and leaders of the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and senior GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
 
Republican senators have already begun to question remarks Sotomayor has made in the past about how her life experiences influence her judicial decisions. In turn, Democrats have defended her as a fair and unbiased judge, and all sides say they are eager to talk to her privately and question her in the public hearings to come.
 
Sotomayor was scheduled to meet with 10 senators during her first day on Capitol Hill, retreating to Vice President Joe Biden's office between sessions to huddle with the White House team, heavy with confirmation battle veterans, that's guiding her nomination.
 
Among those she was to see Tuesday were Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, members of the Judiciary Committee. Rounding out her schedule was lunch with her home state Democratic senators, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, her unofficial chaperone during the confirmation process, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
 
The White House is working daily to promote the narrative about Sotomayor that Obama began the day he named her: a seasoned federal judge who overcame hardship as a youngster and would deliver justice that reflects respect for the law but an understanding of real life.
 
Republicans, however, want to push Sotomayor about whether she would put her own views above the law and rule as an "activist."
 
Senate aides in both parties are preparing for Sotomayor's voluminous response to a 10-page questionnaire the Judiciary panel sent her last week -- an extensive survey of her life, public statements, rulings and political activities -- which will add copious detail to a so-far broad debate over her fitness and qualifications for the Supreme Court.
 
Barring a huge surprise, she is expected to be confirmed. Democrats control 59 seats in the Senate, where a majority vote is needed for confirmation, and another seven Republicans previously voted to confirm Sotomayor for a lower court.
 
Sotomayor, 54, would replace retiring Justice David Souter.
 
Obama wants the Senate to confirm Sotomayor before its August vacation. The White House formally started the clock on Monday, sending her nomination to the Senate.
 
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Associated Press writer Ben Feller contributed to this report.