Biden’s Staff to Play Key Role in Sotomayor Confirmation

Posted May 26, 2009 at 1:03pm

President Barack Obama has given Vice President Joseph Biden’s office a leading role in pressing for the confirmation of federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, according to administration officials.

The process appears to have a number of key players. Even with Biden’s staff involvement, close Obama aides such as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and legislative affairs chief Phil Schiliro are certain to play key roles.

But leading the process, at least nominally, will be Counsel to the Vice President Cynthia Hogan, who has served as a legal adviser to Biden for some 20 years.

Hogan has significant Judiciary Committee experience, rising to be chief counsel for Biden during his tenure as chairman of the Senate panel during the 1990s.

Also deeply involved in the confirmation — as he was in choosing the nominee — will be Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain. Klain formerly worked as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Byron White in the late 1980s and as chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearings on now-Justice Clarence Thomas.

Stephanie Cutter, a longtime Democratic operative and former Senate staffer, has been brought over to the White House from the Treasury Department to assist with the process.

Biden himself does not appear to have a formal role — perhaps if only because tapping the vice president for a lobbying task might appear undignified — but administration officials do not deny that he will be deeply involved.

The White House will also lean heavily on Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who as the senior Senator from Sotomayor’s home state will be actively buttonholing his Senate colleagues on her behalf.

Courtesy calls by Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominee, could begin as early as next week. The Senate is hoping to vote on her confirmation before the August recess.

Obama aides sought to tout what they view as the president’s extensive Congressional outreach. The president consulted with every member of the Judiciary Committee as he vetted the choice. On Tuesday morning, Obama informed Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) of his choice.

According to administration officials, Obama called Sotomayor at around 8 p.m. Monday to tell her she had been selected. The president had made his decision somewhat earlier that day, even though he was leaning toward Sotomayor on Friday. Obama also Monday evening informed three other finalists — Solicitor General Elena Kagan, appeals court judge Diane Wood and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — that they had not been selected.

Each of the four finalists — culled from nine candidates initially considered — met with Obama for an hour last week. Sotomayor spent seven hours at the White House on Thursday, the day of her session with Obama, talking with a variety of presidential advisers.