Kagan Calm, Poised at Hearings - but Questions Linger

Following the morning session of Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings today - where Kagan fought her way through some tough questioning and even managed to crack a joke every now and then -- Richard Socarides, a former White House senior advisor to President Clinton, said on "Washington Unplugged" that she looked as comfortable as can be for someone in the hot seat.

"This is definitely the Elena Kagan I know and I've worked with," Socarides told moderator Jan Crawford. "She seemed to me today to be in complete command. She did not make a single mistake, not even a small mistake. She was polite but very firm under a pretty sharp attack."

Much of that sharp attack came from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who pressed on Kagan's her decision as the dean of Harvard Law School to prevent military recruiters from entering the Harvard Law School's career services office. Socarides said she effectively handled the questions.

"On the 'don't ask don't tell' stuff, which I think was totally expected, it was a very sharp exchange," Socarides said. "But I think importantly, she said, 'I always followed the law, we were always in compliance with the law,' which I think was important for her to say and get out today."

Washington Unplugged asked viewers whether or not they thought Kagan deserved to be scrutinized for her decision to stop the military from entering the career services office. According to CBS News correspondent Kaylee Hartung, who was monitoring the poll numbers, before Kagan talked about the issue 56 percent of viewers believed she should be scrutinized. When the conversation was over, that number fell to 39 percent.

According to Socarides, that's because people could easily identify with her after hearing her speak. "For people who were watching, you'd have to be persuaded by her answers," he said. "The reason why she is doing this with such ease and such command is I really believe she is being completely honest with the committee."

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who sat down one-on-one with Crawford, was also pleased by what she saw at the hearing. She said she was impressed by Kagan's "bluntness, the fact that she has kept her energy level up."

"She can even have some fun like when Dianne Feinstein tried to have a girl-to-girl moment with her in front of millions of people watching," continued Klobuchar. "I don't think anybody thought she was going to do a bad job, but just that high energy level, the ability to handle any question and point to any case, it's been pretty incredible."

Klobuchar and Socarides were nothing but complimentary of Kagan. Rachel Brand, former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy, said that while Kagan did fine, there were still many questions waiting to be answered.

"I think one of the things Republicans have been asking about and have expressed concern about is that they just don't have much to go on to help them figure out what kind of justice she will be because she doesn't have a judicial record," Brand said. "If I had to guess, given her background she would be more likely to be on the left than on the right, that's clear. But it's very hard to know."

Watch Tuesday's special edition of Washington Unplugged and catch the latest developments from Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings on CBSNews.com's Poltical Hotsheet.

"Washington Unplugged," CBSNews.com's exclusive daily politics Webshow, appears live on CBSNews.com each weekday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Click here to check out previous episodes.
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