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Second Day of Sonia Sotomayor's Confirmation Hearings

Aired July 14, 2009 - 17:00   ET


MARIA ECHAVESTE, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: I think did he a great service to the country and I hope a lot of people watched how he questioned and how he raised the issue, because he concluded by saying I would hope that people would recognize a second chance, that sometimes you might say something, that we're moving to a place in which that kind of blanket assertion of one group's superiority over another is unacceptable.

And he -- I was moved, actually. I think he did an excellent job. And I think that she's clarified for the record. And I hope that we can move on.

BLITZER: He was as tough as possible, Alex Castellanos. He certainly was tough. But he was also sympathetic to her. And he made it clear there would be a second round of questioning, that he would have another 20 minutes, presumably tomorrow or the day after, depending on how long all of this continues. And he wants specific answers from her. But he also suggested, you know what, he might still vote to confirm her.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He certainly left the door open. And again, I think one of the things we're seeing here is the development of a new generation of Republican leaders in the Senate who are the big statesmen who are rising to the top now. And I think Lindsey Graham is going to be at the top of that list.

This was the most honest moment, so far, we've seen -- and the least political. This wasn't just another political speech. It was very human and setting politics aside. So I think Lindsey Graham is somebody the Republican Party is going to be looking more to.

I think the big word that comes up for Judge Sotomayor was evasive. There were moments there where she just -- well, are we at war or not?

Well, if you look at some videotapes, they've said, you could certainly think we were. And she was just a little evasive.


BLITZER: But you know what, she thought about her answers and then she concluded, yes, the country is at war. And she referred to the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

Now, Lindsey Graham, as all of us know -- we all know Lindsey Graham. He himself is a JAG officer in the U.S. Air Force. In fact, during the recesses from the Senate, he often goes and serves in the U.S. Air Force reserves as a JAG officer. Last time, last summer he went to Iraq for a couple weeks. So he really is -- is a prosecutor, in a certain degree.

And I want to play this other clip -- Gloria, I want to come out and talk to you about this, because here he starts off relatively polite, but then listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I like you, by the way, for whatever that matters. Since I may vote for you, that ought to matter to you.

One thing that stood out about your record is that when you look at the "Almanac of the Federal Judiciary," lawyers anonymously rate judges in terms of temperament. And here's what they said about you: "She's a terror on the bench. She's temperamental and excitable. She seems angry. She's overly aggressive, not very judicial. She does not have a very good temperament. She abuses lawyers. She really lacks judicial temperament. She believes in an out of control -- she behaves in an out of control manner. She makes inappropriate outbursts. She's nasty to lawyers. She'll attack lawyers for making an argument she does not like. She can be a bit of a bully."

When you look at the evaluation of the judges on the 2nd Circuit you stand out like a sore thumb.


BLITZER: All right. So you see he's quoting other attorneys and saying you know what, she is tough and her temperament might not necessarily be appropriate for the United States Supreme Court.

All right, Gloria, you know, he is a skilled questioner, as you -- as we've all been pointing out.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He is. And you could see she -- she was listening very intently. These are clearly very difficult things to hear that other people have said about yourself.

And what he -- what he said to her was -- he didn't attack her on it. He said, look, as you reach this juncture in your life, you may be ascending to the highest court in the land. This might be a time for self-reflection. And he kind of left it there without having to attack her, but by raising the issue -- saying this is tough stuff and you really need to listen to what these people are saying.

BLITZER: And, Jeff, you know, she did say, in sort of defending herself, I do ask tough questions of my colleagues.

BORGER: Right.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: He does. And if you look at the full entry in this lawyers' guide, Senator Graham did pick out the most negative comments. And there were a lot of positive comments in there, as well. And it's worth remembering that this is an anonymous survey. And all of us who have read blog comments, I think we know that people in anonymous comments are often unduly hostile. And women in positions of power tend to be described in precisely these terms -- you know, men are tough, women are shrill. Men are experienced, women are battle axes. And I think that's a little bit of this kind of commentary we got here.

BLITZER: And let's don't forget, John King, that the American Bar Association gave her the highest possible rating as someone very qualified to be on the Supreme Court.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we've talked a great deal -- and it was talked about yesterday -- that do these hearings really serve a purpose for the country?

Do we learn anything new about the nominee?

Almost -- I think this was the first conversation. Almost all of the other back and forth have been scripted. Republicans come to make a political point. They let her answer the questions.

A lot of the conversations with Democrats are scripted by the White House to address political points the White House believes needs to be made for the hearings.

This is an actual conversation between Senator Graham and Judge Sotomayor where we learned a bit about his perspective, but we also learned a bit about her. He essentially put her record out there. He put -- he went back to the speeches, "wise Latina" and others. He went back to her work for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund in New York and saying that it said some -- had some pretty extreme language about abortion in some of its things.

And he said, I know you didn't write those, but you worked for the organization. His point essentially was let's not kid anybody, this was your life. You worked for this organization, you gave these speeches, now you're going to go onto the Supreme Court.

What he was essentially saying is I assume that you support abortion rights.


KING: I assume you're a liberal. And I'm probably going to vote for you.

BLITZER: And, Candy, he himself said several times what concerns me is not what you did on the bench, what concerns me is what you did in speeches, what you did you in your capacity working for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. That's what concerns me, because it does give us an insight into who you are.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Into -- yes, inside your head and what you're thinking in a more freeform basis than sitting on -- on the bench.

Absolutely. But he also, even as he was doing this, there were just a number of things where you got the sense, I want to get this out here. I want to tell you, it was almost -- when he was talking about her temperament, it was -- it really was a kind of watch this when you get to the court sort of feel to it. It wasn't like, you know, this, this, the other thing.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: And I have to tell you, from another standpoint, I think if it had been someone else on the Republican side up there asking that question, it would have come across as far more hostile than it does with that soft-spoken, even the accent.


CROWLEY: Had it been somebody else, it would have seemed a lot more hostile.

BORGER: He said I might vote for you.

TOOBIN: No one...

BORGER: So he kind of disarmed her.

TOOBIN: No one else could have done this, because, you know...

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: ...these hearings are always a little like the president's party is the direct examination. The cross-examination is from the opposing party. This was an exquisite cross-examination. This is a lawyer who knows what he's doing. So many of these senators, forgive me, are wind bags. They're gasbags.


TOOBIN: This guy really knows what's he's doing and it was a pleasure to watch him operate, I thought.


CASTELLANOS: I think this one stood out in this sense, too, that her prepared answers, her rehearsed answers, the Republicans' and Democrats' rehearsed and prepared questions -- all of a sudden you see the raw and bluntness of Lindsey Graham's questioning. But she still seemed to cling, to a great degree, to the rehearsed answers.

And if -- again, if there's any weakness here where Lindsey Graham might not end up voting for her, I would say it might be for evasiveness. This was her opportunity to say, no, look, I'll get real with you here, just as you have with me here, Senator. But apparently, the process doesn't allow that to happen.

ECHAVESTE: That became... BLITZER: Quickly, because we're going to take a break.

ECHAVESTE: ...most apparent on the question of that are we at war. And she was thinking about where is this going to go. And as we found out in the questions, it was actually going to go to these tough questions about what's appropriate when you have a prisoner.

So she was right to be thoughtful.


BLITZER: All right, guys.

BORGER: He will come back around to that in the next round.

BLITZER: Hold your thoughts, because, clearly, there's a lot to digest here. This was certainly a very, very dramatic moment.

We'll take another quick break in our coverage. We'll resume right after this.


BLITZER: Confirmation hearings continuing right now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sonia Sotomayor continues to be in the hot seat. We're going to resume our coverage of that.

But there's other important news happening right now.

Let's get a quick check from CNN's Betty Nguyen.

She's following what's going on -- Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Bernard Madoff is now at a -- a resident, in fact, at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina. The convicted Ponzi mastermind was transferred there this morning to begin serving his 150 year term for bilking investors out of billions of dollars. And Madoff becomes one of almost 4,900 inmates in the low to medium security facility. A Federal Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman would not say if he will stay at Butner for the duration of his term.

Well, House Democrats called their sweeping plan to overhaul the nation's health care system a path to success. The plan would boost taxes on the wealthy by more than 5 percent, would scale back Medicare and Medicaid payments and would require employers and individuals to buy health coverage or be penalized.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: But it's safe to say as a guideline that when those people who get paid who have stakeholders in this can come together at the White House and say that this bill, over 10 years, would save the American people $2 trillion, those are real dollars, even though they cannot be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: House leaders hope to push health care reform through three committees and onto the House floor for a vote before the August recess.

Well, officials in Afghanistan say a civilian helicopter was shot down today in Helmand Province, killing all six people on board and a child on the ground. NATO officials in Kabul gave no details about the cause of the crash, except to say that it is under investigation. The chopper was ferrying humanitarian aid into the region where fighting rages against the Taliban. Two U.S. Marines and an Italian soldier died in those latest clashes.

And do you remember the color-coded terror alert system -- see it right there -- devised after the 9/11 attacks?

Well, Homeland security chief Janet Napolitano is rethinking it. She has created a task force to review the system over the next 60 days to evaluate its effectiveness. The five tier system goes from green for lowest threat level to red, which is the highest. Now, depending on the panel's findings, the system could be overhauled or just eliminated altogether.

I want you to check this out, this next video. Look at that. It could have been a major -- yikes -- disaster. A biplane -- my goodness -- doing aerobics goes out of control -- let's watch again -- and then collides with a car carrying a family of three. You're going to see that right about now. Right there. Oh my goodness.

It happened near Frankfurt, Germany. The collision sheared off the bottom of the plane and sent it into the car, which was in a nearby field, miraculously, though, no one -- not even the pilot -- suffered much more than a bump and some bruises and just a few scratches.

Boy, those people were awfully lucky -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly are. It's almost like a miracle, as you say.


BLITZER: Wow! An amazing video.

All right. We're going to get back to you, Betty, and get some other stories that are going on.

We're continuing our coverage here in Washington of the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor. It looks like they may be getting ready to wrap it up for the day. We're watching to see what's going on right after these hearings wrap up for today. THE SITUATION ROOM will be on for a complete wrap of everything going on in the world today.

Our coverage resumes right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Those are live pictures of U.S. Supreme Court here in Washington. But very, very nearby the Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress inside this hearing room. The Senate Judiciary Committee is continuing to question Sonia Sotomayor.

Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois, doing the questioning right now. And Sonia Sotomayor doing the answering.

SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: What you described as streamlining procedures have been by, I think, all of the circuit courts that have addressed the issue affirm and given Chevron deference.

So the question is not whether the streamlined procedures are Constitutional or not. But what happened when he instituted that procedure is that with all new things, there were many imperfections.

Your approaches to things create new challenges. And there's no question that courts faced with large numbers of immigration cases, as was the 2nd Circuit -- I think we had the second largest number of new cases that arrived at our doorsteps -- the 9th Circuit being the first. And I know the 7th had a quite significantly large number -- were reviewing processes that, as Justice Alito said, left something to be desired in a number of cases.

I will say that that onslaught of cases and the concerns expressed in a number of cases by the judges, in the dialogue that goes on in court cases with administrative bodies of Congress, resulted in more cooperation between the courts and the immigration officials in how to handle these cases, how to ensure that the process would be improved.

I know that the attorney general's office devoted more resources to the handling of these cases. There's always room for improvement. The agency is handling so many matters, so many cases, has so many responsibilities. Making sure that it has adequate resources and training is an important consideration, again, in the first instance, by Congress, because you set the budget.

In the end, what we can only do is ensure that due process is applied in each case, according to the law required for the review of these cases.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: Do you feel that it's changed since 2005, when Judge Posner said the adjudication of these cases at the administrative level has fallen below the minimum standards of legal justice?

SOTOMAYOR: Well, I wouldn't -- I'm not endorsing his views because he can only speak for himself. I do know that in, I would say, the last two or three years, the number of cases questioning the processes in published circuit court decisions has decreased.

DURBIN: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Thank you very, very much, Senator Durbin.

I've -- I have discussed this with Senator Sessions. And as I told him earlier, also with -- with -- at his request, we would have a -- we haven't finished the first round. But once we finish the first round of questions, we'll have 20 minute rounds on the second.

I'm going to urge senators if they don't feel the need to use up both rounds, just as Senator Durbin just demonstrated, that they not.

But here will be the -- the schedule. We will break for today. We will have -- we will begin at 9:30 in the morning. We will finish the first round of questions. The last -- the last round will be asked by Senator Franken.

And then we will break for the initial closed door session with the -- with the nominee. And so for those who have not seen one of these before, we do this with all Supreme Court nominees. We have a closed session just with the nominee. We go over the FBI report. We do it with all of them.

It's, I think we generally say it's routine. And we did it with Justice Roberts -- or Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito and Justice Breyer and everybody else.

Then we'll come back for a round of 20 minutes each. But during that round, I will encourage senators, if they feel all questions have been asked -- I realize sometimes all the questions may have been asked, but not everybody has asked all of the questions -- that we try to ask at least something new to keep up the interest. And then -- and then we can determine whether we're prepared, depending how late it is, whether we're going to do the panels or whether we have to do the panels on Thursday.

Does that...

GRAHAM: Thank you, Chairman Leahy. And I do think that the scheme you arranged for this hearing is good, the way we've gone forward. I thank you for that.

We've done our best to be ready in a -- in a short time frame. And I believe the members of this side are ready.

Talking of questions, there ain't no harm in asking.

Isn't that a legal rule, to get people to reduce their time?

But there are still some important questions. And I think we will certainly want to use -- most members would want to use that 20 minutes. And then I appreciate that and look forward to being with you in the morning.

LEAHY: That's why I say, ask the question. I probably have violated the first rule that I learned as a trial lawyer, you shouldn't ask a question if you don't know what the answer is going to be.


LEAHY: But then I also have that other aspect where hope springs eternal.


LEAHY: As we have a whole lot of other things going on in the Senate, I was hoping my -- and Senator Cardin, Senator Whitehouse, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Specter and Senator Frank. And I am sorry that I didn't get to you yet, but we will before we do the closed session.

Judge, thank you very much.

SOTOMAYOR: Thank you for

LEAHY: We stand in recess.

BLITZER: All right. Day two is now over. Day two is over, but still eight senators have to have an opportunity to ask questions. That will resume at 9:30 A.M. tomorrow morning, Eastern.

Six Democratic senators still have time allotted to them, 30 minutes each. Two Republican Senators, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

So there are going to be at least four hours of questioning tomorrow morning starting at 9:30 A.M. Eastern, assuming all of those eight senators use the full 30 minutes allotted to them. Some of them might not need 30 minutes and that would reduce it.

Afterwards, as you just heard Senator Lind -- Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of this committee, say, they will then go into a closed door session to review some of the FBI vetting, the background checks, things like that.

And then they will resume the second round for all 19 senators. They will each have 20 minutes, if they need 20 minutes -- some of them won't need 20 minutes -- to ask their questions.

Today, though, being the first day of questioning. Yesterday, as we know, was simply opening statements by all 19 senators, followed by Sonia Sotomayor.

But there's no doubt that the highlight -- the climax of today's day was the questioning by Lindsey Graham.

He asked some very pointed questions on a whole host of issues and we're going to assess what we heard from Lindsey Graham and Sonia Sotomayor and the other points that were made today in this first round of questioning when our coverage continues.


BLITZER: Day two is now over. They have broken up the Senate judiciary committee confirmation hearings for Senator Sonia Sotomayor. The hearings will resume at 9:30 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning. Another eight senators have 30 minutes of questioning allotted to each of them. She will be back. She will rest up tonight and go through this process once again tomorrow. Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina asked some very, very pointed questions and made some very dramatic statements.


GRAHAM: There are plenty of statements in the record in support of you as a person that do not go down this line. But I would just suggest to you for what it's worth judge, as you go forward here, that these statements about you are striking. They are not about your colleagues. You know, the ten-minute rule applies to everybody. And obviously, you have accomplished a lot in your life, but maybe these hearings are time for self-reflection. This is pretty tough stuff that you don't see from -- about other judges on the second circuit.


BLITZER: Very tough stuff indeed and said to Senator Sonia Sotomayor maybe you should think right now at this moment, this historic moment, where presumably you are about to become an associate justice of the United States supreme court, rethinking some of the way you do business. That was a pretty poignant statement from Lindsey Graham. We are hoping, by the way to speak to Lindsey Graham. I hear he is going to be coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM fairly soon. I want to quickly go around and get everyone's assessment, starting with Candy Crowley. How is day two, which is really day one in terms of questioning, how it went and whether anyone seemed on the Republican side to make a dent as far as her prospects for confirmation are concerned?

CROWLEY: In the overall picture, I don't think so I think it was a no hit, no run, no foul day for her and that is the kind of game the White House wants.


CASTELLANOS: I don't think she hurt herself at all. Did she nail down the three Republican votes the White House is hoping to get? She maybe took a step closer to it, but I'd say not necessarily. She was a bit evasive at the end.

BLITZER: You say three Republican votes on this committee?

CASTELLANOS: To on this committee.

BLITZER: Seven Republicans on the committee. There are some indications that three of them, potentially, including Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch, when all the dust settles and the vote comes up, not this week, probably next week, the week after, whatever the judiciary committee has its vote, might join all 12 Democrats in voting to confirm her. Were you surprised by any of the Q & A today?

ECHAVESTE: I think that I was very impressed with Lindsey Graham. Again, I think he just did a superb job. I think she revealed herself in answering the questions as being very thoughtful and very knowledgeable without giving anything away about how she is going to vote. So, I think that we may have actually heard the last of the wise Latina woman, I hope.

BLITZER: I suspect that is not necessarily the case. There is still two more Republicans who have some questions, including John Cornyn of Texas tomorrow and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

TOOBIN: You know, at the beginning of the hearing, Chuck Schumer said, you know, we may be able to get as many votes as Chief Justice Roberts got, which was 78. I don't think they are going to get 78 votes. I think they are going to get some handful of Republican votes but that's it. I think this is a polarized Senate. Yes, it is possible they will get hatch, possible Sotomayor will get Lindsey Graham's vote, but I don't think she is going to get anywhere near 78 votes. You know what that means? Not much. She is still going to be confirmed but I don't think she is going to get --

BLITZER: A lot of Republicans, especially the two women from Maine, Olympia Snow, Susan Powell, likely to confirm her. Is that right?

TOOBIN: I think absolutely likely to vote for her. There are 60 Democrats. Once you get above 65, it's -- I think it's very hard slogging. Some Democratic still on the final vet on the Senate floor who just don't need to take --

BLITZER: You have anyone in mind?

CASTELLANOS: I'm still looking at --

TOOBIN: This is a disagreement we have had throughout these hearings. Alex keeps talking about the political risk of voting for Sotomayor. You think --

BLITZER: If you are a Democrat.

TOOBIN: Or anyone.

ECHAVESTE: For the first --

TOOBIN: If you think voting against the first Hispanic nominee to the court is a political risk, I think it's a political risk to vote against her, not vote for her.

CASTELLANOS: I think a lot of Hispanics are going to be offended saying you have to vet for someone because they are stick.


CASTELLANOS: Just because they are a woman. There has been certainly enough of a substantial debit on her record here that you could either vote for her or against her on her own merits. Look, she has a great story, distinguished story, tremendous career, bootstrap story august long record, been on both sides of controversial issues a ton of speeches, controversial things she said, vote for or against this nominee on her own merit, not because of her ethnicity or gender and I don't think that is a political liability, but 2010 is going to be a tough political year for Democrats.

ECHAVESTE: The economy, not because of Sotomayor.

CASTELLANOS: They don't need to add to it by putting cultural issues on their plate like affirmative action, the death penalty. This is a judge who voted to let felons currently in prison vote. She supported that. Do you want to be a Democratic candidate who rubber stamps that?

CROWLEY: Well, I don't think she put to rest today the wise Latina woman comment. I think folks on the committee, particularly Republicans, agreed to sort of take her new explanation and just kind of leave it there because there is really nowhere else you can take that if she said she was meaning to inspire people, that she was talking about the obligation of judges to examine their feelings, but she really didn't put to rest.

BLITZER: She also said that what she was trying to do was reiterate in a different way what Sandra Day O'Connor had once suggested about women on the Supreme Court.

CROWLEY: Right. She did. She said that that comparison fell flat. She didn't come out and say I'm sorry I said that.

BLITZER: She expressed regret.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She regrets it now. She regrets it now. But I don't think -- I don't think she put it completely to rest. We are going to hear it again.

CROWLEY: She may not have put to rest but gone as far as she is going to go. That's it. She has rested, whether or not it comes up again or not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right. But not going to change anyone's mind one way or another.

KING: If you look at the statements, look at the blogs, saying she has runaway from what she said in those speeches, trying to run and hide. That is what they say. They say she won't flesh out what she said in the past on rulings on gun rights that is the conservative chatter to the point of this table did it change any of the mass in the United States Senate today? No. If you can watch only 30 minutes of this, didn't tune in all day, watch the 30-minute conversation, part conversation, part cross-examination with senator graham. He planted seeds to come back to the war on terror, detainee rights, executive power, on abortion rights, her past work as an attorney. Planted some seeds, made it clear he wanted to come back to those he shall use. It was, by far, the most compelling. It was an actual conversation in a hearing very, very scripted to Alex's point, something worth looking at. I have been checking in the past several days on that one key question. Any one, any one Democrat told the White House or the Senate leadership they might need a pass on this one and the answer as of two minutes ago was no.

BLITZER: And you know, Dana Bash, our senior Congressional correspondent is up on the hill. You are in that room, probably pretty much empty right now, but if you know Lindsey Graham as most of us do, Dana, you have interviewed him on many occasions, those rapid- fire questions that he asked, he was well prepared but he basically signaled to her get ready for the next round of my questioning. That's going to be -- those are going to be 20 minutes of questions. You better go home and do your homework.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He absolutely did. This was leading the witness, I think, in its entirety, watching the Lindsey Graham to Judge Sotomayor. Listening to Lindsey Graham many times I guess over the past six weeks or so, even after he met privately with the judge, he came out and said some of the things he said in this room today to her face. I think he said some of it in private. Particularly the concern that he has, especially as a military lawyer and somebody who has been in the jag for a long time, with the reputation she has of being a little too tough on the bench. So that was interesting that he said to her face I think one of the most interesting things was beyond all of that and beyond all of the very interesting discussion and walk back she did of the wise Latina comment was she did it and wouldn't say. She was asked about executive power. She was asked about privacy issues, abortion, gun rights. And she did what she was supposed to doomed punted it almost all of those issues. They will come back to those issues, try to get her to nail her down on them. She, thanks to the experience she has around her and some of the Democrats in the White House who worked on other nominations, successful nominations in the past they did a pretty good job of teaching her how to avoid talking about some of those issues she will have in front of her on the supreme court.

BLITZER: I want to walk through the schedule, Dana, a little bit. Looks like it is taking longer than they thought it would take. Hoping to wrap all of these questions up today and go into executive or private session tomorrow to deal with some of the vetting process, the FBI background checks, things like that. There are still eight senators that have a half an hour each to ask questions. When does the judiciary committee hope to have a final vote, up or down, on Sonia Sotomayor?

BASH: That is pretty unclear because they want to see how this is going on. I can tell you what Senator Leahy has said to us and what he has said privately on the telephone with the president is that he wants to make sure that before Congress recesses, the Senate recesses for august he will have judge Sotomayor approved and going to the supreme court that is the ultimate goal to make sure she is approved by the full Senate before the august break t is unclear when the committee would actually vote. I think they will have more of a sense of that as the week goes on.

BLITZER: Dana Bash is not going to go away. We will continue our coverage in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, pointed questions, some sparks, even protests, as the Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor speaks at length in her confirmation hearing. She is answering questions on some of the most controversial positions. There's no doubt about that.

Also, he ran what believed to be the biggest financial scam in history, now Bernard Madoff arrives at his new home yes may spend the rest of his life.

And new developments in those murders that shocked the nation, seven people now in custody, suspected of killing a couple with 16 children, most of them adopted, many with special needs.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Begin with those seven people now in custody in the murder case involving that Florida couple with 16 kids. CNN's Ed Lavendera is on the scene for us, joining us with the latest developments. Another dramatic day in this horrible crime, Ed?

ED LAVENDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really has been, Wolf. The sheriff here just a few hours ago announcing that now, in all, seven people have been arrested for the murders of the Billings' couple can and it is the end of a long investigation, but authorities here say it is still not over.


LAVENDERA (voice-over): Authorities say Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr. was the ringleader of the seven suspects that allegedly murdered Byrd and Melanie Billings. But in a short court hearings, Gonzalez surprisingly used the home to declare his innocence. It is the first time we have heard from any of the accused.


LAVENDERA: We don't know who Gonzalez is talking about exactly but investigators they have arrested all the men who carried out what they call the methodical and chilling murders of the Billings' couple. These are the pictures of the suspects facing charges, one we can't show you because he's 16-year-old juvenile. Three from a Pensacola area, the other four from the Fort Walton beach area. Gonzalez Jr. and Donald Ray Stallworth have a military background. The air force confirms Stallworth is currently an active duty staff sergeant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a very well-planned and well-executed operation.

LAVENDERA: After saying robbery was one of several possible motives, authorities now say the suspects burst into the home, killed the couple and then stole a medium-sized safe. They squashed suggestions that something more sinister was behind the killings. BILL EDDINS, STATE ATTORNEY: I think the safest, easiest, clearest thing to say the primary motive in this case is robbery. Home invasion/robbery.

LAVENDERA: Investigator says Leonard Gonzalez Senior and Wayne Coldiron were occasionally hired to work around the Billings' property but beyond that, there doesn't appear to be any connection between the seven suspects and the Billings' family.

EDDINS: We have found them and they are in custody.

LAVENDERA: As the final arrests were announced, Ashley Marcum, the oldest daughter of Byrd and Melanie Billings tearfully stood by the sheriff's side but she left without speaking out.


LAVENDERA: Wolf, the reason I say that the sheriff says this investigation isn't completely over yet, even though they have seven people who they are going to charge with murder in this case, they still say that there is one person that they know of, that they know the location of, but they are interested in continuing to pursue that person. It is possible this could reach eight people in all. Wolf?

BLITZER: Who is taking care of these 16 kids right now, 'cause that is a heart-wrenching thought for all of us, these parents, 16 kids now without a mother or father?

LAVENDERA: Yes that is the incredibly tough part about this and something I think the emotional weight as you saw Ashley Mark Couple there carrying into these press conferences. We understand some of the family members will hold another press conference tomorrow as well. What we have been told so far is that family members are taking care of these children and they will continue to do so and everyone that we have been able to speak with here in the sheriff's office when asked how these children are doing, best they can be expected, especially they are surrounded by loving family members at this point but kept in a private location.

BLITZER: Ed Lavendera reporting from Pensacola. Thank you.

Another major story unfolding right now here in Washington, D.C., the controversial F-22 fighter jet. There is a possibility this fighter jet is going away. Let's go to our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, working the story for us. Lots of people want to see the end of this plane. Why?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to the pentagon, this is a plane that is really no longer need pentagon, this is a plane no longer need. It is a showdown between the White House, the pentagon and Congress over how billions in taxpayer money may be spent.


STARR (voice-over): The F-22 fighter jet costs about $50,000 an hour to keep in the air. It's never flown in either the Afghanistan or the Iraq war. President Obama says enough is enough. He doesn't want anymore and he is willing to have a showdown with Congress over that decision. One of his biggest allies, his former political opponent.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What may arise from ending the F- 22 program is operationally acceptable.

STARR: In a letter to Congress, he said he will veto the Congress spending bill if it involves money for the F-22 spending bill. Defense secretary, Robert Gates has been fighting for months to force Congress to shut down production after 187 have a craft saying the air force has other planes it can use.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: To be blunt about it, the notion that not buying 60 more F-22s imperils the national security of the United States I find completely nonsense. Mark me down as undecided.

STARR: Supporters, mainly legislators in states where the F-22 is manufactured, like Georgia, say the plane is vital to keeping the U.S. Air Force number one in the skies.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: It is this administration that is making the decision to terminate the best tactical airplane ever conceived.


STARR: He says if you terminate the program, it will cost 95,000 jobs and a lot of jobs would be in his home state of Georgia, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, the controversy over the F-22 is not necessarily all that unusual. There is a lot of other very sophisticated fighter systems, war machines, that some people say have outlived their usefulness.

STARR: The country is spending billions of dollars on new fighter aircraft. What is the threat they are going after. Who is really out there that can challenge the U.S. military to a dogfight in the sky? Well, they talk about Russia or China. But that would be in the future. Right now, neither of those countries, North Korea, none of them have air forces that would really challenge the U.S. Air Force in the sky. The other question out there, the other potential threat, what if the U.S. wanted to attack Iran's nuclear program using air power, would this even be the plane that they would try to use to go after Iran's nuclear program? Air Force experts say it likely wouldn't be the F-22. All of this raising the question at least in gates' mind, why is he spending billions on a plane. More money that he says he doesn't need to spent -- Wolf?

BLITZER: President Obama says he wants to prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future. The plan he is unveiling in a state where unemployment is sky high. The highest unemployment in the nation and likely to keep on rising. Goldman Sachs leaves the financial crisis in the does the. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Betty, what's going on?

NGUYEN: Wolf, fresh troops are going to Iraq but it's a rotation not reinforcement, that today from the Pentagon that say except for the crossover period, there will be no increase in overall force levels. The pentagon says three division headquarters and eight brigade combat teams will begin making the switch a little later this year. They are currently 128,000. There are currently 128,000 American troops in Iraq.

Well, opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi is reportedly taking steps to build a new political front in Iran. According to the "Associated Press," a top aide says he will create an umbrella group composed of reformed-minded political party. It will be his first concrete move in the wake of Tehran's crackdown of post-election protest. Mousavi has vowed to continue his campaign.

A new swine flu outbreak. Among dozens of incoming freshmen at the U.S. Air Force Academy, 67 cadets have confirmed cases of the H1N1 viruses and another 30 are showing symptoms and the academy says all the sick freshman known as newlies are in isolation on the campus in Colorado Springs. So far, not one of them has been hospitalized.

The general manager of Washington's Metrorail system says since last month's deadly crash, trains are operated exclusively on manual. Thousands of tracks have been inspected and older railcars are now positioned in the middle of the train. John Catoe testified today before a House subcommittee hearing.


JOHN CATOE, METRO GENERAL MANAGER: First, I would like to extend my sympathy and those of all metro employees to the families of those who died in this accident. I, as well as all metro employees are sanded by this event but my grief is only small compared to the grief of the families that lost their lives.


NGUYEN: Nine people were killed and another 70 injured June 22nd when a metro train slammed into another train on the red line -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Very sad indeed. Hopeless sons are being learned. Right now, Baghdad is very, very excited. They have' lot of pride. It has done something it hasn't been able to do in many years. At least for a few moments, balls and sport are replacing booms. CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to international football, Baghdad style. This is the first time international since the ban was imposed in 2002 in the lead up to the U.S. invasion. Excuse me, guys, excuse me. Just here, they are playing their first home game, Iraq against Palestine. This stadium is filled to capacity with intense security. As the war continues but it is this game, this has been the Iraqi people's disconnect from the horror around them. This is the only thing that's united the Iraqi people. When they won the Asian cup, the violence stopped for a moment as the entire country celebrated. Today, we see it again. This truly is one of Baghdad's all too few grand days. It is football that has connected everybody together.

Michael Ware, CNN, Baghdad.


BLITZER: Iraq's soccer team won that game. They are ranked 94th in the world. These days, they play for the sports. Just a few years ago, playing could have meant life and death. Before the 2003 U.S.- led invasion, Sadam Hussein's son was widely known to have run Iraq's national soccer team with an iron fist. Players that didn't perform well were said to be humiliated, thrown in prison and tortured. Some were told their legs would be cut off. You will remember Uday Hussein died in the attack in 2003 and is buried next to his father and his brother.

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