CBS's Rodriguez to Kagan Friend Eliot Spitzer: Is Moderate Label 'Accurate'?

Maggie Rodriguez and Eliot Spitzer, CBS In the 7:30AM ET half hour on Monday's CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez lobbed softballs to disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer about his college friend and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan: "She's been labeled as moderate. If you had to put a label on her, would you say that one is accurate?" A headline on screen read: "Who is Elena Kagan?"

Spitzer replied: "I guess you could say moderate....it's very hard to pigeon hole her." Rodriguez's question was prompted by his insistence that Kagan "is not an ideologue of the Left or the Right and that is clear from what she did as dean of Harvard Law School. Just a perfect temperament to be a justice." Of course, during Kagan's tenure as dean of Harvard Law, she pushed for military recruiters to be barred from campus because of her opposition to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.   

Rodriguez wondered about Kagan's college days: "Can you think of a story or an anecdote from back then?" Spitzer recalled: "a friend and I were going back and forth about who could eat more, she goaded us into having a spaghetti eating contest." Rodriguez looked for the best way to spin the story to make it relevant: "I'm trying to take something from that, could it be that she's persuasive, can bring people together, which is what the President is hoping?" In response, Spitzer declared that once on the Supreme Court, Kagan "will get the fifth vote."

Rodriguez went on to fret: "When she was confirmed as solicitor general, she only had seven Republicans vote for her. Now it's even more contentious, it's an election year. Will there be any hurdles, in your view?" Spitzer reassured her: "everybody's been saying this is an election year, this is partisan politics. But the good news is, her paper record is pristine."

In an attempt at a challenging question, Rodriguez noted: "she's never been a judge before and she's going to the Supreme Court, that's something that hasn't been done in a long, long time. Can't you see that being an issue?" Spitzer dismissed the idea: "not being a judge is a good thing. She has seen the world from different perspectives. In my mind, and I don't say this as an ideological argument, one of the greatest chief justices Supreme Court in modern history, Earl Warren."

Rodriguez then requested a more personal side to Kagan: "You've told us a lot about her professionally, but people will want to dig into her personal life a little bit. What can you tell us about her as a person that we might not know?" Spitzer gushed: "good humored, always upbeat, looks at hard problems, knows how to figure them out. Can't imagine a better, more perfect nominee."

In reply, Rodriguez remarked: "Someone we want long term on there?" Spitzer agreed: "I hope so....she will be there for a long time and that is good for stability in terms of legal reasoning, the ability to project her thoughts for a long time into the court."

Following Rodriguez's interview with Spitzer, fellow co-host Harry Smith happily joked: "And conservatives are saying Earl Warren two? No!"

On ABC's Good Morning America on Monday, co-host George Stephanopoulos similarly tossed softballs to former Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig, who followed Democratic talking points praising Kagan's nomination.

Here is a full transcript of the Early Show segment:
7:17AM TEASE:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Coming up here this morning, so just who is Elena Kagan, President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court? We'll hear from her former classmate and longtime friend, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

7:21AM TEASE:

RODRIGUEZ: Back in 1977, Elena Kagan, President Obama's choice replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court, was a Freshman at Harvard, where she went on to be the first dean of the law school. Her classmate at the time, Eliot Spitzer, went on to be Governor of New York. He joins us exclusively this morning to give us a little insight. They've been friends for 30 years. We'll hear more about Elena Kagan from Eliot Spitzer in just a minute.

7:30AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: But first, President Obama's second nomination to the Supreme Court. His choice is Elena Kagan, she is currently the nation's solicitor general and she was the first female dean of Harvard Law School. But what is she really like and what do we know about her? These are questions a lot of Americans have, so we're going to put them to former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who has been friends with Ms. Kagan since their days at Princeton more than 30 years ago. Sorry to date you like that.

ELIOT SPITZER: I was going to say, this is – you didn't need to be quite so clear how long ago this was. But that's alright.

RODRIGUEZ: But the point is, you've known her a long time.

SPITZER: Absolutely.

RODRIGUEZ: Went to Princeton, went to Harvard. What can you tell us about her, going way back?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama's Pick; Who is Elena Kagan?]

SPITZER: First, from the perspective of the public, she is unbelievably smart and thoughtful and careful, the sort of perfect qualifications to be a justice of the Supreme Court. Somebody who will look at every case, think about the constitutional issues, and do what is right for the country. She is not an ideologue of the Left or the Right and that is clear from what she did as dean of Harvard Law School. Just a perfect temperament to be a justice.

RODRIGUEZ: She's been labeled as moderate. If you had to put a label on her, would you say that one is accurate?

SPITZER: I guess you could say moderate, but I would say she's really thoughtful and then passionate about what she believes, but very careful about what she believes. And that is why it's very hard to pigeon hole her. And that is why, I think, at Harvard she did a – such a spectacular job.

RODRIGUEZ: Can you think of a story or an anecdote from back then?

SPITZER: Well look-

RODRIGUEZ: That might interest the public?

SPITZER: I have to think of one that won't, you know, cause any problems in Washington. But, you know, it's typical of her – a friend and I were going back and forth about who could eat more, she goaded us into having a spaghetti eating contest. And then, since she worked in the newspaper at the time, put a big picture of it on the front page. The place we had the spaghetti eating contest went out of business two days later because of all we ate, so we felt guilty about that, but she was always the one sort orchestrating things, getting other people to do things. Smart, funny, witty, thoughtful, as clever as can be.

RODRIGUEZ: Okay, so I'm trying to take something from that, could it be that she's persuasive, can bring people together, which is what the President is hoping?

SPITZER: Well, she will – she will get the fifth vote. To put this in the context of the Supreme Court, when she is on the court and she's looking for a fifth vote because she needs to get the majority, she will argue for a perspective that will get, whether it's a Kennedy or Scalia, whomever it will be, she will be persuasive to get that vote.
                    
RODRIGUEZ: But first, she's got to be confirmed. When she was confirmed as solicitor general, she only had seven Republicans vote for her. Now it's even more contentious, it's an election year. Will there be any hurdles, in your view?

SPITZER: Well, of course there are hurdles. Because everybody's been saying this is an election year, this is partisan politics. But the good news is, her paper record is pristine. She has just been confirmed, she has not taken issues on some of the hot-button issues that give either side a reason to object, and everybody has agreed she's incredibly smart and thoughtful and careful. And those are the qualities that you want in a justice. And if she does not pass muster, who would? So I think that is argument people should make.

RODRIGUEZ: You're her friend. President Obama has worked with her a long time, they are also old friends. So you can see why both of you would give such ringing endorsements. But she's never been a judge before and she's going to the Supreme Court, that's something that hasn't been done in a long, long time. Can't you see that being an issue?

SPITZER: Disagree. In other words, not being a judge is a good thing. She has seen the world from different perspectives. In my mind, and I don't say this as an ideological argument, one of the greatest chief justices Supreme Court in modern history, Earl Warren. Earl Warren was the attorney general of California and then the governor of California before he was elevated to the Supreme Court. Experience as a judge or a justice is useful, but certainly not critical. What matters is life experience. Life experience, intellect, and the temperament to be a judge and think through these issues the way she will.

RODRIGUEZ: You've told us a lot about her professionally, but people will want to dig into her personal life a little bit. What can you tell us about her as a person that we might not know?

SPITZER: You know, when we go out to dinner and with friends, and look, there are a lot of us who have been friends for, as you pointed out, over 30 years, since college days, she's funny, she's witty, she enjoys having a good time, doesn't take herself too seriously. Looks at the world and can laugh at it the right way and say isn't it kind of amusing. There she was, in the White House, the dean of Harvard Law School, now she'll be, we hope, a justice on the Supreme Court. Somebody who is good humored, always upbeat, looks at hard problems, knows how to figure them out. Can't imagine a better, more perfect nominee.

RODRIGUEZ: Someone we want long term on there?

SPITZER: I hope so. Look, she's 50. She will – hate to admit it, Elena, you're 50 – but she will be there for a long time and that is good for stability in terms of legal reasoning, the ability to project her thoughts for a long time into the court.

RODRIGUEZ: Eliot Spitzer, thank you so much.

SPITZER: My pleasure, thank you.

RODRIGUEZ: Good to have you. Now let's go back-

HARRY SMITH: And conservatives are saying Earl Warren two? No! Alright. Thanks, Governor. Appreciate it.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC