What's Ahead for Sotomayor?

After President Obama announced her nomination for the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor admitted she had some jitters.

"I was just counseled not to be nervous. That's almost impossible," the New York judge said to laughter at the White House last Tuesday.

After Sotomayor finished speaking, Vice President Joe Biden leaned in and told her, "I told you. Piece of cake, piece of cake."

Sotomayor got through that speech and her first week as Obama's first Supreme nominee with minimal damage, and White House officials believe she passed the early tests with flying colors.

But now comes the next stage, when Sotomayor starts her meetings on Capitol Hill to kick off the process that could make her the first Hispanic and only the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court

The White House has put together a team, lead by Cynthia Hogan, chief counsel to Vice President Biden, to guide Sotomayor through the confirmation process, with mock hearings and coaching. Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff and former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committe, will also play a significant role in the process.

While past administrations brought in a "gray-beard" Washington wiseman to serve as the public point person for the nominee, Sotomayor and the Obama team will lean heavily on Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is a veteran of the Judiciary Committee and from Sotomayor's home state.

Ed Gillespie, who helped guide nominees John Roberts and Sam Alito through their confirmation process in 2005, said the first week in the life of a Supreme Court nominee is the most challenging period of the confirmation process.

"The nominee will as is custom and tradition ... go dark essentially, other than meetings one on one with the senators. And that's for the nominee, sometimes they like to be out responding to some of these stories, rumors, charges, allegations, but that's not really in the nominee's interest," he said.

Gillespie and others who have been involved in Supreme Court nominations said that with all of the noise from the outside interest groups and pundits, it is important to remember that the critical audience is the 18 members of the Senate Judiciary committee and the 100 members of the Senate.

"Broader audience doesn't matter as much; let the White House people deal with that," Gillespie said.

So who gets to "deal with that"? Cue Stephanie Cutter, who left her job as an adviser to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to head up the team that will shape the White House's message through the confirmation process.

Cutter, a seasoned Democratic political operative, brings her experience from coordinating the Democrats' opposition to Roberts and Alito in 2005 and has close ties to the Senate.

"Stephanie knows the Senate and she knows the leading Democratic senators. But she also has a real institutional sense for the rhythms of the Senate and the give and take that goes on between the two sides," said one Democratic party official. "She has a good bulls*** detector on what is political posturing for posturing sake."

Sotomayor Works the Hill

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