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Monday: Kagan Hearings Set to Begin; Sen. Byrd Dies; Oil Hits Miss. Coast

Elena Kagan

Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan begin Monday. (The NewsHour will live stream the hearings all week.) Monday’s hearing is scheduled to begin at around 12:30 p.m. at the Hart Senate Office Building.

Each member of the Senate Judiciary Committee will be permitted to deliver opening statements. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., will introduce Solicitor General Kagan. Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will then administer the oath, and Kagan will be invited to make an opening statement. Her statement is expected to begin around 3:45 p.m. The committee will then recess for the day following Kagan’s statement.

There are no questions planned for Monday.

The Associated Press offers “a primer” on the senators: “a cast of graybeards, rising stars and a lame duck once in charge.”

The AP notes a key difference between Kagan’s hearings and the most recent ones for Justice Sonia Sotomayor: “Kagan’s are taking place in an election year in which 36 seats in the Senate are up for grabs.”

We turned to our regular Supreme Court analyst, Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal, for some history of the confirmation process and what to expect this time.

The Wall Street Journal offers a viewer’s guide to the hearings and this nifty interactive comparing past hearings. Kagan is expected to win confirmation, but as the Journal notes, “each party will aim to score political points.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes that when Kagan appears for her confirmation hearings, “she will be a tabula rasa for large swaths of the American public.” In other words, she is an unknown:

“In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last week, nearly six in ten (57 percent) didn’t know enough about Kagan to offer an opinion…. Asked what they thought of Kagan joining the court, 47 percent said they didn’t know enough to venture an opinion.”

The New York Times believes:

“[Kagan] arrives for her Senate hearings Monday as one of the most enigmatic nominees for the Supreme Court in recent memory. It’s not simply that she has kept her writings and opinions to a minimum through two decades of public life; it’s that the contradictions in the thinking she has expressed in public raise as many questions as her silence.”

The Post’s Anne E. Kornblut and Paul Kane write, “Republicans have struggled to find a compelling line of attack to take against the Supreme Court nominee.”

Not so, say Politco’s Josh Gerstein and Manu Raju:

“Republicans, who decided early on that they stood little chance of defeating Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, settled instead on making her confirmation process a ‘teachable moment’ to highlight the dangers of liberal judicial activism.”

Slate’s Sonja West offers Kagan some advice: “Kagan needs to talk to the American people honestly … about the job for which she is applying and why she is so qualified to get it.”

Sen. Robert Byrd Dies at 92

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, died early Monday at age 92.

The NewsHour has rounded up some intitial reaction here. We’ll have much more about Sen. Byrd on the Rundown later today and on Monday’s program.

Heavy Oil Hits Mississippi Coast for First Time

Large patches of thick oil washed ashore in Mississippi on Sunday, the first time crude from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico has hit the state’s coast. Oil hit two tourist beaches at Ocean Springs, about 10 miles east of Biloxi, and a beach used by fisherman that is close to an inland marsh. Wildlife officials picked up one pelican covered in oil.

Afghan Corruption Cases Derailed, Billions in U.S. Aid Misdirected

“More than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Afghanistan in the past three years, a sum so large that U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

And the Washington Post reports, “Afghan prosecutors and investigators have been ordered to cross names off case files, prevent senior officials from being placed under arrest and disregard evidence against executives of a major financial firm suspected of helping the nation’s elite move millions of dollars overseas.”

Meantime, NATO said Monday that a Taliban commander was among several armed people killed during a search operation in Kandahar, but residents told the AP that the troops killed eight innocent civilians, including two elderly men.

World Leaders Pledge to Cut Deficits in Half

Leaders of the world’s largest economies pledged to cut deficits in half by 2013, according to a statement made following the G-20 summit this weekend in Toronto.

Despite President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “consistently advocating a measured approach to debt reduction that would not stymie growth and lead to a double-dip recession,” reports the New York Times, the United States joined the other countries in the announcement.

Kyrgyzstan Approves Constitution

Voters in Kyrgyzstan approved a new constitution Sunday, setting the stage for the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia, according to results released Monday of a referendum that was held during the weekend.

Two-thirds of voters turned out on Sunday, just two weeks after ethnic violence killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands.

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