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This Week In Congress - May 14, 2010

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I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress...

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy had said it before...

LEAHY: I would hope at some point he’ll consider someone from outside the judicial monastery.

That was almost exactly one year ago, just before the announcement of the last Supreme Court Justice pick, who turned out to be Judge Sonia Sotomayor. This week, Leahy got his wish when the President announced his nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan. That is, assuming the Senate confirms.

LEAHY: The President could nominate Moses the Lawgiver. In fact, I told the President, I said, ‘you realize if you had nominated Moses, somebody’d raise – "but he doesn’t have a birth certificate! Where’s the birth certificate?’" C’mon...

Kagan would begin making the rounds on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

A series of hearings this week focused on BP and its key contractors, Halliburton and Transocean. Top executives from each company had the awkward job of sounding contrite and deflecting blame – at the same time. Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso had strong words for the oil executives.

BARRASSO: Reading the written testimony I hear one message and the message is: ‘Don’t blame me.’ Well shifting this blame does not get us very far.

Barrasso delivered those strong words to a panel of scientists. The oil company executives were scheduled to appear later, by which time Barrasso had left the hearing.

Some lawmakers took on the vaguely shell-shocked appearance of someone who’s been absorbing the details of an unfolding environmental catastrophe while at the same time, fielding questions about what it all means for the future of off-shore drilling. Especially since Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman were unveiling their long-awaited bipartisan climate and energy bill on Wednesday. Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat from Florida-–your thoughts?

NELSON: Anybody who thinks that you’re going to approve as part of the deal on climate change, off-shore drilling, is not living on planet Earth!

And yet some of Nelson’s colleagues do think off-shore drilling should remain in the mix...

NELSON: It’s because they don’t understand the fright...and the pure, abject...lemme say that over. The people all up and down the Gulf Coast are in an absolute panic.

Meanwhile, all week the Senate floor was busy with amendments to the financial regulatory reform bill. A few of those amendments originated from lawmakers’ offices; most of them originate from lobbyists. When it comes to those of Republican origin, many are crafted to highlight specific objections over what’s in – and what’s been left out.

Louisiana Senator David Vitter:

VITTER: For instance, the four words "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac" aren’t in the 1,100-page bill.

This week, Banking Chairman Chris Dodd blasted an amendment offered by Senator John McCain that would do away with the government-backed mortgage entities.

DODD: So you’re left in a free-fall! Who gets hurt? Average Americans, that’s who gets hurt.

McCain countered, saying it was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, acting largely at the behest of Congress, to expand the use of subprime mortgages that set the financial system on a road to ruin.

McCAIN: It is certain that the government’s failure to properly regulate the enterprises has created one of the worst policy disasters in history.

McCain’s amendment failed.

The Senate resumes debate on more amendments on Monday. There also will be more hearings next week on the BP oil spill, including one to focus on federal response to the disaster.

That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.

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