Sen. Feinstein greets Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan

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Kitty Felde/KPCC

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan and Senator Dianne Feinstein.

It’s been a day of courtesy calls on Capitol Hill for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Elena Kagan made the rounds, meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including California Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

Elena Kagan smiled for pictures with Senator Feinstein and then reporters were shooed out of the room. After their half hour meeting, Feinstein said she and the Supreme Court nominee talked about reproductive rights.

Feinstein was pleased with the prospect of Kagan joining Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the high court. She said a "third woman is something that is eminently desirable. Women are a majority of the population in this country. I know that’s difficult for men to admit and reconcile and deal with. It’s a reality."

Feinstein said she didn’t think Kagan’s opposition to military recruiters on Harvard’s campus because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would be a stumbling block to confirmation. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to begin those confirmation hearings next month.

The first senator Kagan met with was the leader of the Democratic majority, Harry Reid.

"I told my staff after I met with her, I was so impressed with her," Reid said. "She is a brilliant woman. ... She's excelled academically since she was a little kid. I just like her background -- her mother was a teacher, her dad was a lawyer, but a very small, two-man firm."

While the majority leader played up Kagan's scholarship and middle-class roots, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell played up the fact that Kagan is a member of the Obama administration who has never been a judge.

"She's never had to develop the judicial habit of saying no to an administration, and we can't simply assume that she would," he said on the Senate floor shortly before meeting with her.

Not all key Senate Republicans are so skeptical.

"Who do you expect a Democratic president to nominate? Someone who is of their philosophy, who is more liberal than a Republican would," said South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, who was the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee who voted to send President Obama's last nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, to the high court. "If you want conservative judges, vote for conservative presidents. ... What I want is qualified people. It's OK to be liberal."

But what's not OK, says the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, Jeff Sessions, is that five years ago Kagan restricted military recruiters' access to the campus of Harvard Law School, where she was dean. She did so after an appeals court found the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy unconstitutional.

"It seems to me a little bit out of touch that you think you could disagree with the legal policy of the military, and that would allow you to in any way inhibit their ability to come to your campus," the Alabama senator said after meeting with Kagan. "I think that indicates some of the dangers of being in the rarefied atmosphere of the academy."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said he discussed the matter with Kagan on Wednesday and was satisfied with what she told him.

"I don't think that anybody's ever had a difficulty with talking to recruiters of any of our services at Harvard," Leahy said.

NPR contributed to this report

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