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Morning Bulletin: Friday, May 29, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The digging into President Obama's Supreme Court choice, Sonia Sotomayor, has begun and there's no shortage of research, comments and criticism - some of which is extremely harsh.

"Lawyers who have argued cases before Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor call her 'nasty,' 'angry' and a 'terror on the bench,' according to the current Almanac of the Federal Judiciary -- a kind of Zagat's guide to federal judges," reports the Washington Times' Tom LoBianco.

"The withering evaluation of Judge Sotomayor's temperament stands in stark contrast to reviews of her peers on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Of the 21 judges evaluated, the same lawyers gave 18 positive to glowing reviews and two judges received mixed reviews. Judge Sotomayor was the only one to receive decidedly negative comments. Judge Sotomayor's demeanor on the bench will be one of the issues the Senate Judiciary Committee tackles when she appears for her confirmation hearing. A lack of a good temperament has been used as a line of attack against nominees in the past - most notably conservative Judge Robert H. Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was defeated. But several lawyers and legal scholars on a call organized by the White House said the criticism is misplaced and that Judge Sotomayor's legal acumen is overwhelming."

The New York Times' Jo Becker and Adam Liptak add that Sotomayor, "has a blunt and even testy side, and it was on display in December during an argument before the federal appeals court in New York. The case concerned a Canadian man who said American officials had sent him to Syria to be tortured, and Judge Sotomayor peppered a government lawyer with skeptical questions. 'So the minute the executive raises the specter of foreign policy, national security,' Judge Sotomayor asked the lawyer, Jonathan F. Cohn, 'it is the government's position that that is a license to torture anyone?'

"Mr. Cohn managed to get out two and a half words: 'No, your hon—— .' Judge Sotomayor cut him off, then hit him with two more questions and a flat declaration of what she said was his position. The lawyer managed to say she was wrong, but could not clarify the point until the chief judge, Dennis G. Jacobs, stepped in, asking, 'Why don't we just get the position?'

"To supporters, Judge Sotomayor's vigorous questioning of the Bush administration's position in the case of the Canadian, Maher Arar, showcases some of her strengths. She is known as a formidably intelligent judge with a prodigious memory who meticulously prepares for oral arguments and is not shy about grilling the lawyers who appear before her to ensure that she fully understands their arguments.

"But to detractors, Judge Sotomayor's sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner — some lawyers have described her as 'difficult' and 'nasty' — raises questions about her judicial temperament and willingness to listen. Her demeanor on the bench is an issue that conservatives opposed to her nomination see as a potential vulnerability — and one that Mr. Obama carefully considered before selecting her."

(CBS)
USA Today interviewed Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions yesterday and he "indicated he will not shy away from controversy. He said Sotomayor needs to explain what she meant in 2001, when she said: 'I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.' Sessions called the statement 'troubling.' 'The American people need an answer before she goes on the bench as to exactly what she meant by that,' Sessions said.

While Sessions called that statement "troubling", Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich called it "racist."

"Some Democrats and political analysts are urging the White House to shift course and concede that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor made an error when she suggested in 2001 that Hispanic women would make better judges than white men," reports Politico's Josh Gerstein.

"'She misspoke,' said Lanny Davis, a White House lawyer and spokesman for President Bill Clinton. 'Every day that goes by that they don't say she misspoke and she used the wrong words ... they just feed it and give it life and give Rush [Limbaugh] and [Sean] Hannity more airtime unnecessarily.' Said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane: 'In this day and age, six or seven or eight weeks is a long time to go without addressing an issue that can potentially take on a life of its own and evolve and grow.'"

(GETTY)
The Dallas Morning News' Todd J. Gillman reports that Judiciary Committee member Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., "repudiated the allegation that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is 'racist' - and he distanced himself in no uncertain terms from the conservative opinion leaders who leveled that charge against the Supreme Court nominee, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

"'I think it's terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,' Cornyn told NPR's 'All Things Considered.' The racism allegation - and efforts to pressure Sotomayor to withdraw from consideration for the court - stem from Sotomayor's remark that as a Latina, she would bring a superior perspective to some cases than a white male judge. Asked by NPR if he's worried that comments like Limbaugh and Gingrich's harm the confirmation debate, Cornyn said: 'Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don't think it's appropriate and I certainly don't endorse it. I think it's wrong.'"

(AP)
Speaking of unelected Republicans weighing in on Sotomayor, former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who's had his eye on 2012 pretty much since he dropped out of the Republican primary last year, hinted that Republicans shouldn't give up the option of filibustering her nomination.

"Asked Thursday whether Republicans should leave the filibuster option on the table, Romney didn't answer directly. But he did say the Senate should mimic Supreme Court nominations under President George W. Bush," reports The Hill's Aaron Blake.

"Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) tried to get Democratic support for a filibuster of Samuel Alito in 2006 but none was close to being mounted. Romney went on to suggest that no effort should be made to strip Republicans of the ability to filibuster. 'I think the process that was applied during the Bush administration should be the same process applied during the Obama administration,' Romney said. 'I don't believe in the nuclear option on either side of the aisle.' The 'nuclear option' is an attempt to end a filibuster by majority vote, as opposed to the 60 votes usually needed to end a filibuster. In 2005, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) threatened to use it against Democrats blocking Bush's judicial nominations. Romney sounds as though he's saying that the filibuster should always be an option -- even for judicial nominations, which have avoided such procedural meddling in the past. Republicans have been measured in their public comments about Sotomayor, and there seems to be a hesitance to delve into the prospect of a filibuster, including on behalf of top Republicans like Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)."

BUSH & CLINTON: Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton meet for a $230-plus per ticket "conversation" at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this afternoon focusing on "challenges facing the world in the 21st century." Moderator: former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Frank McKenna.

"So why is the pair so appealing to a Toronto audience? Is it their celebrity appeal? Their wisdom?" asks Toronto Star columnist Bob Hepburn. "Whatever the reason, they can pack a hall, as Clinton has proven countless times before in Toronto. As for Bush, it will be his second speech in Canada since leaving the White House. The first was in March in Calgary. ... No one will say how much the two ex-presidents will be paid for tomorrow's event, but Bush reportedly received $160,000 (U.S.) for his Calgary appearance."

Yesterday, Mr. Bush spoke to the Economic Club of Southern Michigan in Benton Harbor and, the Detroit Free Press' Chris Christoff reports, he "defended his decision to allow harsh interrogation of a terror suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., saying it was cleared by his lawyers to prevent what his advisors believed was another, imminent attack."

"'I made a decision within the law to get information so I can say, I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people,' he said. 'I can tell you, the information gained saved lives.' ... He said the overthrow of Iraq president Saddam Hussein will someday be seen as the spark that established democracy in the Middle East, and that 'people will say, 'Thank God they never lost faith.' ... And he said although he has opinions, he will not criticize or advise President Barack Obama. 'There are plenty of people who will wade in, trust me, having seen it first hand,' he told a crowd of 1,500."

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S SCHEDULE: With hurricane season beginning Monday, President Obama will attend a hurricane preparedness meeting at FEMA this afternoon.

This morning, Mr. Obama will talk about how the government plans to deal with the threat of cyber attacks. "President Obama on Friday is expected to unveil his administration's plans to deal with cybersecurity threats to federal agencies and the private sector, including the creation of a White House 'cyber czar,'" reports CBSNews.com's Declan McCullagh.

"It's not yet clear who that person will be, or even whether Mr. Obama will name someone during his announcement. The new position is expected to be folded into, as part of a political compromise, both the National Security Council and National Economic Council. The announcement, which will take place at 10:55 a.m. ET in the White House's East Room, caps years of criticism of the Department of Homeland Security's efforts and months of speculation about what form the replacement cybersecurity bureaucracy will take. ... No bureaucratic mandate will satisfy everyone: Security hawks would like the 'czar' to have authority -- which may mean new laws -- to direct both federal agencies and private businesses on cybersecurity matters. Business representatives, on the other hand, like the potential for increased high-level attention but remain wary of mandates from Washington."

***CBSNEWS.COM'S "WASHINGTON UNPLUGGED": Moderator Bob Schieffer talks to Liz Cheney, Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, Cleta Mitchell from the Republican Lawyers Association and John McCaslin, author of "Weed Man." Watch it today at 2pm ET.

SOTOMAYOR

Washington Post's Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear, "Abortion Backers Get Reassurances on Nominee"

Associated Press' Sharon Theimer, "Debate over who Sotomayor is a sensitive one"

NY Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Buzzwords Shape the Debate Over Confirmation"

Wall Street Journal's Suzanne Sataline, Jess Bravin and Nathan Koppel, "A Sotomayor Ruling Gets Scrutiny"

Politico's Ben Smith, "Princeton University holds the key to understanding Sonia Sotomayor"

LA Times' Andrew Zajac, "Sotomayor's net worth is probably on low end of federal judiciary"

Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel, "Sonia Sotomayor: No empathy for campaign cash"

AUTO INDUSTRY

CBSNews.com's Sean Alfano, "Sen.: U.S. Stake In GM Akin To Socialism"

Washington Post's Peter Whoriskey and Tomoeh Murakami Tse, "GM, Chrysler Position to Move Through Bankruptcy at Top Speed"

ECONOMY

Associated Press' Jeannine Aversa, "Economy's fall still bad - even if less steep"

Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta and Kara Scannell, "Financial Overhaul Raises Questions"

FOREIGN POLICY

LA Times' Paul Richter and Christi Parsons and Richard Boudreaux, "U.S.-Israel rift becomes an unusually public one"

NY Times' Elisabeth Bumiller, "Gates to Reassure Allies in Asia Over North Korea"

Wall Street Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen, "Taliban's Foreign Support Vexes U.S."

HEALTH CARE

Washington Post's Ceci Connolly, "Kennedy's Health-Care Measure to Require Employers to Chip In"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

CBSNews.com's Mark Knoller, "When It Comes To Ambassadorships, Some Things Never Change"

Washington Post's Anthony Faiola, "Geithner to Pursue Practical Goals, Tone in Trip to China"

FUTURE RACES

2009 VA Governor: Washington Post's Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman, "Nader: McAuliffe Offered Money To Avoid Key States in '04 Race"

2010 MN Governor: Minneapolis Star Tribune's Kevin Duchschere, "Pawlenty pushes back his reelection decision"

2010 CT Senate: Associated Press' Andrew Miga, "Dodd to air first TV ad in 2010 re-election bid"

2010 IL Senate: Chicago Sun-Times' Jordan Wilson, "Durbin rejects Burris' explanation"

2010 MO Senate: Kansas City Star, "Missouri congressman [Blunt] owes back taxes on D.C. home"

2010 PA Senate: Washington Times' S.A. Miller, "Sestak 'close' to run against Specter"

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.