Top White House officials bristled Monday when asked whether they think Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s sexuality will become an issue in her confirmation hearings.
“It’s not anything I’m going to get into,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking to reporters in his West Wing office.
Gibbs was asked a handful of times about rumors that Kagan is gay, and gave terse responses each time.
Asked why the White House pushed back so aggressively when CBS News published a piece on its website (CBS appears to have pulled the piece) that said Kagan, if confirmed, would be the country’s “first openly gay justice,” Gibbs said it was not an issue to the president.
“We are going to defend the nominee that the president has chosen,” Gibbs said when asked if he thinks the rumors will be brought up during the confirmation process.
When asked what the White House was defending Kagan from, Gibbs said: “That’s just a broad answer.”
“I’m just not going to get into somebody who is doing what that person was doing on CBS’s website. This is about who she is going to be as a justice,” Gibbs said.
Ron Klain, chief counsel to the vice president and a key figure in the White House legal team, said: “Elena went through the same vet that everyone else goes through for the Supreme Court is all I’ll say.”
On a separate issue, Klain said that the administration will not immediately release memos written by Kagan when she worked at the White House under President Bill Clinton.
“I’m sure the committee will request those papers and we’ll reach an accommodation with the Clinton Library on that,” Klain said. “We’ve got to see what the committee wants to see and we’ll go from there.”
“Well do everything we can to facilitate those requests,” Klain said.
Kagan worked in the White House counsel’s office from 1995 to 1997 and was deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council from 1997 to 1999. Her memos would be in Arkansas at the Clinton Library.
Klain dismissed concerns about Kagan’s decision when she was dean of Harvard Law School to ban military recruiters from the campus in protest of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“It certainly didn’t seem to impair military recruiting,” Klain said.
“The idea, the suggestion that I’ve seen in some of the attacks on Elena that she somehow is anti-military is ridiculous and absurd,” Klain said.
He then recited the White House talking points that will be used in Kagan’s defense many times over the coming weeks.
“She constantly praised the service of students at Harvard who chose military service in her annual welcome every year. When she went through the statistics on a class she always talked about the number of veterans. She become the first Harvard Law School dean to host a dinner at her house for veterans who were at the Harvard Law school every year on Veterans Day. She spoke to the Cadets at West Point and was praised by the commandant there for her speech and her openness.”
“She has even, jointly with Gen. [David] Petraeus, pinned bars on a Harvard Law school student who got promoted,” Klain said. “So Elena has always been someone who respects military service, who has encouraged students to seek out the military. But her personal opposition to the policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is also well known, and that obviously is something that she conveyed to the students at Harvard.”
However, Klain also tried to reassure critics on the left.
“Elena is clearly a legal progressive,” he said. “I don’t think there is any mystery to the fact that she is more of the progressive mold than not.”