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Washington Sketch: What Did Sotomayor Mean by That?

Members of the Washington community give their opinion on Obama's decision to nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Video by Emily Kotecki/The Washington Post

Leading the call, Harvard's Martha Minow, a law-school classmate of the nominee, declared: "I am so struck by her mastery. . . . I mean, this is a pro. This is a very sophisticated person. This is what you see when you get a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton."

Even Sotomayor's alleged weakness as a legal theorist was turned into a positive. "She's not been writing op-eds or developing large theories," Minow said. "What you see is someone who decides the cases that come before her."

The nominee herself has already placed calls to leaders of the Senate and its Judiciary Committee. The White House issued a campaign-style memo titled "What They're Saying About Judge Sotomayor." In it were phrases such as "first-rate" and "bold and brilliant." Naturally, there was no mention of the matters that were fueling the opposition -- Sotomayor's opinion that the "Court of Appeals is where policy is made," and her thoughts on the superior judgment of Latinas.

"Are you saying that there is no racial dimension and there should be no racial dimension interpreted or drawn from Judge Sotomayor's comments?" Fox's Major Garrett asked Gibbs.

Gibbs ducked the question, directing Garrett to "read the full article" and advising reporters: "I think we can all move past YouTube snippets and half-sentences and actually look at the honest-to-God record."

April Ryan of American Urban Radio shouted back at the press secretary: "These are words that she said out of her mouth!"

Gibbs would have done well to mention Sotomayor's line in that same speech in which she said that "we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group." But Gibbs evidently wasn't prepared, for all he said when pressed to explain the 32 words was "I think -- I -- I have confidence in Americans reading not just part of, but the whole statement."

As Ryan continued to hector Gibbs, the spokesman grew testy, telling her, "You're not understanding even remotely the full context of what she said in that debate."

Actually, it was a speech, but that was the least of Gibbs's troubles. The questioning had drawn the interest of ABC News's Jake Tapper, who said he had read the entire speech but was still "wondering if you can explain what she meant."

Gibbs ducked again, telling the reporters that the speech was "about the unique experiences that she has" and again recommending people "look at her whole record" in its "totality."

"You're not spinning us," Tapper complained. "We're asking you, spin us! Explain what you think she meant."

"I have done that," Gibbs said.

But he'll have to do better to make the 32 words go away.

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