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Political Notebook

Key senator blasts Kagan’s record at Harvard Law

Representative John Lewis and Senator Blanche Lincoln looked at plaques unveiled yesterday that recognize the slaves who helped build the Capitol in Washington. Representative John Lewis and Senator Blanche Lincoln looked at plaques unveiled yesterday that recognize the slaves who helped build the Capitol in Washington. (Mark Wilson/ Getty Images)
June 17, 2010

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WASHINGTON — A top Senate Republican blistered the record and views of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan yesterday, saying the former dean of Harvard Law School relegated the military to second-class status at the school and contending her judicial stances appear to be “infected’’ by very liberal political views.

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, delivered his criticisms from the Senate floor, giving a preview of the attack points Kagan will have to negotiate in her confirmation hearings, which start June 28.

Sessions offered a new twist on a frequent Republican criticism of Kagan — that she restricted military recruiters’ access to Harvard Law students, as a result of the university’s stance that the military’s ban on openly gay service members violated the school’s policy on discrimination. Kagan defenders have noted that recruiters were could still reach students through a student veterans group.

Through her policies, Sessions said, Kagan diminished the stature of the military and denigrated the services of soldiers.

“Perhaps to some in the elite, progressive circles of academia, it is acceptable to discriminate against the patriots who fight and die for our freedoms,’’ he said. “But the vast majority of Americans know that such behavior is wrong, it has arrogance about it, and really it is not ethical.’’

White House officials disputed that characterization.

“Once again, Senate Republicans are demonstrating that they won’t let the facts get in the way of a political attack, one that the West Point Dean Patrick Finnegan called ‘ludicrous,’ ’’ said Joshua Earnest, White House spokesman. “The truth is that, under dean Kagan, the number of Harvard Law School graduates who entered military service increased. Some of those students are now serving overseas and have expressed their belief that [Solicitor] General Kagan should be confirmed to the Supreme Court.’’

Sessions summed up the narrative on which Republicans are likely to try to build opposition to Kagan, a former lawyer in the Clinton administration: “Ms. Kagan lacks experience as a judge, as a lawyer, and as a scholar. Much of her career has been spent actively engaged in liberal politics — not legal practice.’’ -- MARK ARSENAULT

Pawlenty PACs set up in N.H. and Iowa
ST. PAUL — Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has expanded his presence in two states pivotal to presidential politics, setting up fund-raising operations in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The state-based political action committees formed during the past week and announced yesterday will allow Pawlenty to raise and spend money on behalf of Republicans running for state and local offices, part of a good-will strategy common among possible presidential candidates.

Iowa and New Hampshire, which traditionally open the nominating process, rely heavily on one-on-one politicking where local leaders can play a significant role. State PACs help build visibility and alliances that pay dividends later, said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

“If somebody gives you a $1,000 contribution to your political campaign, that’s a lot of money in a small campaign,’’ Smith said. “That person is likely to remember that generosity and much more likely to work for you if and when you choose to run for president.’’

Pawlenty is leaving office after his second term ends in January. He insists he hasn’t decided whether to try for the White House in 2012, but frequent travel and increased party building point in that direction. Pawlenty has visited both Iowa and New Hampshire twice since ruling out another run for governor. He heads back to New Hampshire next month.

The Iowa and New Hampshire committees share the name of Pawlenty’s federal Freedom First PAC, which he launched in 2009 to pay for travel, hire consultants, and help congressional candidates. But the money raised for the national PAC can’t be passed on to candidates for governor, state legislatures, or other local offices.

Pawlenty adviser Alex Conant said the focus is on the 2010 elections, not on 2012.

“Both states trended toward the Democrats in recent years, but hold great opportunities for conservative candidates this fall,’’ Conant said.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has had offshoots of his Free and Strong America PAC in Iowa and New Hampshire for more than a year.

In Iowa, Romney’s PAC reported having $50,000 in the bank as of last month. There is no recent New Hampshire filing for Romney’s group. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

Plaques honor slaves who helped build Capitol
WASHINGTON — Congress is recognizing the work and the suffering of the slaves who helped build the US Capitol.

Commemorative plaques have been placed inside the Capitol in their honor. Lawmakers said the memorials will ensure that the contributions of slaves in building one of the world’s most recognizable buildings are never again forgotten.

“In remembering the slaves who labored here, we give them in death some measure of the dignity they were so cruelly denied in life,’’ Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said at the plaques’ unveiling.

The plaques read: “This original exterior wall was constructed between 1793 and 1800 of sandstone quarried by laborers, including enslaved African Americans who were an important part of the work force that built the United States Capitol.’’

Lawmakers have been looking for ways to honor the slaves who were used in the construction of government buildings, including the Capitol and the White House.

Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and a former civil rights leader who chaired a congressional task force that studied the contributions of slaves to the Capitol, said the plaques help reveal an often-overlooked part of the Capitol’s history.

“Imagine, in Washington’s oppressive summer heat and humidity, to chisel and pull massive stones out of a snake- and mosquito-infested quarry,’’ Lewis said. “Imagine, having to fight through the bone-chilling winter in rags and sometimes without shoes. Just imagine, the United States government paying your owner, not you, but your owner $5 a month for your labor. This Capitol, the most recognizable symbol of our democracy, was not built overnight, it was not built by machines. It was built through the backbreaking work of laborers and slave laborers.’’

Historians have discovered that slaves worked 12-hour days, six days a week on the construction of the Capitol. The federal government rented the slaves from local slave owners at a rate of $5 per person per month.

Slaves also worked in quarries extracting the stone for the Capitol. Others provided carpentry skills; still others worked at sawing stone and timber. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS