Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor hobbled through a packed day of meetings on Capitol Hill Monday after breaking her ankle in an early morning airport stumble, then boarding a flight from New York to Washington to visit senators who will vote on her confirmation.
The federal appeals court judge, who has been keeping a busy set of appointments with lawmakers, tripped while rushing for her plane at New York's LaGuardia Airport. The White House said she suffered a small fracture to her right ankle.
Sotomayor made the meetings with senators despite her injury. She entered the Capitol for a meeting with Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, on crutches, wearing a white cast covered at the foot with a black soft bootie. Asked how she was feeling, Sotomayor said, "I feel fine, thank you."
The injury changed the tone slightly on an otherwise high-intensity round of meetings that are part job interview for Sotomayor, part preview of a pressure-filled set of confirmation hearings.
'Please be seated'
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., signed Sotomayor's cast during their session. Her fellow Louisianan, Republican Sen. David Vitter, had a bag of ice and a pillow on hand when the judge arrived at his office, telling her to "please be seated and relax."
"I hope you all note that some Republicans are empathetic too," Vitter quipped to reporters. It was a humorous reference to President Barack Obama's remark that he wanted a Supreme Court justice with "the quality of empathy" — a concept that has been roundly criticized by conservatives who counter that personal feelings and experiences have no place in a judge's decisions.
Sotomayor chuckled at the comment. "Oh I'm so grateful. Thank you, sir," she told Vitter.
Still, Vitter emerged from the meeting saying he still had "very serious concerns" about Sotomayor, including her position on the Second Amendment that gives Americans gun rights and her much-discussed comment in a 2001 speech that she hoped a "wise Latina" would usually make better decisions than a white male without that experience.
Vitter said he questioned Sotomayor "at great length" about the remark, which she repeated with almost identical wording in at least two subsequent speeches, and which she had the chance to look over while preparing a written version that later appeared in a journal.
"I think that's very different from an offhand comment which was ill-advised in terms of wording," Vitter said.
The White House, which initially said the "wise Latina" comment was a poor choice of words, scrambled Monday to explain what Sotomayor meant by it.
"If you go back and look at each of the instances, I think the overall theme is that experiences and background matter, and that what we've talked about in 2001 was a poor choice of words," said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman. He said he couldn't recall whether he knew the judge had uttered almost precisely the same words on multiple occasions when he said on May 29 that it was a poor word choice. Obama also said at the time that he was "sure she would have restated it."
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh ridiculed Sotomayor on the subject and on her injury during his program Monday, saying, "I hope she can find a wise Latina doctor to set that ankle as opposed to an average white doctor, because the wise Latina doctor has much richer experience with broken ankles, and would probably do a much better job of setting that ankle than an average white doctor who has not lived the rich experiences of a Latina med student."
Sotomayor has set a relentless pace since her Capitol Hill debut last week, meeting with one-third of the Senate in just four days of visits.
The White House is pressing for her quick confirmation, and Sotomayor wasn't pausing much for distractions, even her own trip-up. After her arrival in Washington, she went straight to the White House, where a physician examined her and sent her to a local medical office for an X-ray.
Praise from Laura Bush
The George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates treated and released her, according to a White House statement. She'll likely be limping through most of her confirmation process; Sotomayor said she would be in the hard cast for three weeks and a lighter one for three weeks after that.
Sotomayor drew praise Monday from former first lady Laura Bush, who said she was pleased Obama had nominated a woman for the Supreme Court.
"I think she sounds like a very interesting and good nominee," Bush said of Sotomayor. She said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that, "as a woman, I'm proud that there might be another woman on the court. I wish her well."
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