Obama Seeks to Frame Debate on Elena Kagan on His Terms

Today's East Room announcement of the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court was President Obama's first and last best chance to introduce his choice on his terms and to frame the debate on the nomination.

Everything he said today will be quickly overtaken by the reaction of key Senate leaders and outspoken interest groups for and against the nomination. The announcement in the majestic East Room set the stage for the coming debate.

Mr. Obama moved quickly to pre-empt some of the contentious issues that are likely to crop up during the coming confirmation hearings. He did not mention the obvious, Kagan's lack of judicial experience. But the message was clear as he told the nationwide audience, "She believes, as I do, that exposure to a wide array of perspectives is the foundation not just for a sound legal education but a successful life in the law."

Asked about concerns about Kagan's lack of experience on the bench top White House adviser David Axelrod told reporters, "I don't think the president had one bit of hesitation about that."

If confirmed, the 50-year old Kagan could have a long life on the court. She would be the youngest justice on the court. Her age was an obvious factor in the president's choice. Every president wants to make a lasting imprint on the court. As Axelrod noted, the president understands he's appointing "a justice for a generation."


The White House also moved to deal with another potential confirmation hearing issue, Kagan's role in Harvard's debate on banning military recruiters from campus because of the Pentagon's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military. The controversy erupted while Kagan served as (first woman) Dean of the Harvard Law School.

The White House insists she did not personally order the recruitment ban. Previewing how the nominee will likely handle the hot-button issue during the confirmation process, a White House official said Kagan did not actually ban military recruiters from the campus. According to the official, she "simply abided by the terms of an appellate court ruling upholding the school's non-discrimination policy."

President Obama avoided any mention of the military issue but he sought to respond to any criticism of Kagan's academic tenure. He said, "At a time when many believe the Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint, she sought to recruit prominent conservative scholars and spur a healthy debate on campus."

The White House is undoubtedly working to recruit conservative references to publicly reinforce Mr. Obama's description of Kagan's "fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus builder." It's all part of a White House campaign for the only consensus that counts, Senate approval of the Kagan nomination.

(Follow me on Twitter: @petermaercbs)

More Coverage of Kagan's Nomination:

Obama Nominates Elena Kagan to Supreme Court
Photos: Elena Kagan
Jan Crawford: Kagan Is a Strategic, Not Political Pick
Four Potential Confirmation Hurdles
Kagan "Honored and Humbled" by Nomination
Early Conservative Reaction to Kagan Nomination
Jan Crawford, Bob Schieffer on Why Obama Nominated Kagan
Schieffer Sees Bitter, Vicious Fight Over Kagan
Eliot Spitzer: Kagan Would "Get the Fifth Vote"
Commentary: Elena Kagan's Goldman Sachs "Connection"
Kagan Had Rapid Ascent to High Court Nomination

Peter Maer is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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    Peter Maer is a CBS News White House Correspondent.