Gay-Rights Advocate: White House ‘Flat-Footed at the Beginning’ on Kagan

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

The spectacle of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s sexuality being whispered about in public forums has provoked an odd set of responses from the White House – to the consternation of some Democrats who are active on gay-rights issues.

Today on ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line,” Richard Socarides – a prominent Democratic gay-rights advocate who worked alongside Kagan in the Clinton White House – said the White House appeared “flat-footed” at the beginning, but appears to have gotten its messaging under control.

“I think they were a little flat-footed at the beginning -- really actually before she was nominated. But once she's been nominated I think it's been fine,” Socarides told us.

“I think the whole conversation now is probably more silly than anything else, and is probably mostly about bloggers trying to drive traffic to their blogs,” he added. “I think it's, you know, appropriate for bloggers to talk about whatever they want to talk about, but I don't think it's had much of an impact.

“I think right now what we see most importantly is that the president has nominated a brilliant lawyer and scholar who’s universally well regarded by Republicans and Democrats, who’s getting a great reception on the Hill. And by the looks of these meetings she's been having has got some pretty great political skills also.”

The White House sought to publicly tamp down rumors of Kagan being gay even before she was nominated Monday by President Obama, and in the absence of any evidence suggesting otherwise. White House senior adviser David Axelrod said this week that her sexuality wasn’t “an avenue of inquiry on our part and it shouldn't be on anybody else's' part.”

But then, former White House communications director Anita Dunn told The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty that Kagan was asked directly about her sexuality when she was being vetted for her post as solicitor general.

Adding to the confusion, Dunn tells ABC’s Jake Tapper today that she either misspoke or was not clear with Tumulty. She said she does not know whether Kagan was every asked about her sexual orientation by anyone in the administration.

Socarides said Kagan will be able to fairly judge all issues that come before the court. That includes those touching on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gay and lesbian service-members from being open about their sexuality – a policy Kagan spoke out against as dean of Harvard Law School.

“That opinion is very much in the mainstream of thought here today in this country. It looks like that law is going to be repealed,” Socarides said. “If there's anything that's clear about her is that she is a fair person and will look at any case and will judge any case on the merits of that particular case. … So I don't think she would recuse herself, nor do I think she's prejudged any of these cases.”

Socarides said Kagan’s background and work experiences should convince progressives to back her enthusiastically.

“She clerked for two very significant, progressive judges -- Abner Mikva and Thurgood Marshall,” he said. “She's worked for two Democratic presidents in a great, progressive tradition -- Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She worked at and ran the Harvard Law School -- you know, generally considered a progressive institution, not one of the more conservative institutions in our country. But I think those are clues.”

Turning to the Obama administration, Socarides voiced some continued frustration with the fact that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is still in place under President Obama.

“I hope it's going to be repealed this year. It is not at all clear to me that we've had the -- enough leadership from the president and from the White House in general in terms of getting the Congress’ support for their efforts,” he said. “I think it’s very important for the president to act now and to reassure Congress that they will have his full support and attach repeal for ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to the Defense authorization bill, even if the implementation comes later, which is in keeping with what Secretary [Robert] Gates has wanted.”

Watch the full interview with Richard Socarides HERE.

For our “Post Politics” segment, we chatted with Amy Gardner of The Washington Post about Sarah Palin’s political activities, plus the tea party energy that’s playing out in next week’s Kentucky Senate primary.

Watch that segment of “Top Line” HERE.

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