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TURNING A STEREOTYPE INTO A JOKE

When Elena Kagan appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she was asked where she was on Dec. 25, 2009. She replied, "Like all good Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant." Was she actually speaking the truth, or was she being facetious? If she was actually in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas, why?

We don't know for sure, but Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan could have been speaking the truth and being facetious when she made that remark.

At the confirmation hearings, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was asking Kagan about terrorist threats to the United States and asked her if she was unnerved by a would-be bomber on Christmas Day 2009.

"Where were you on Christmas Day?" Graham asked.

"Like all Jews," Kagan responded, "I was probably at a Chinese restaurant."

Her answer drew chuckles from the committee. Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., quipped, "I could almost see this one coming." And Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., added: "Those are the only restaurants that are open!"

Kagan, like most Jews, does not celebrate Christmas. And most Chinese do not either, making their restaurants often the only ones open on Dec. 25. So over the years it's certainly true that many Jews have made something of a tradition of eating Chinese on Christmas Day. And Kagan showed a sense of humor by turning the stereotype into a joke.

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Senate's use of secret holds

Why does the Senate allow secret holds on nominees? What's the point and why are these holds secret?

The use of holds is not a formal part of Senate rules, but has become more prevalent in recent years as the Senate conducts more business by "unanimous consent," where all 100 senators agree on an issue and no roll call vote is needed. In principle, a hold is a means for a senator to temporarily delay action on a bill until any remaining questions are answered.

Senators were comfortable with the holder remaining unidentified because it allowed for lingering problems to be worked out behind the scenes, without unneeded publicity. But the situation has changed significantly as the Senate has become more partisan and lawmakers, mainly from the minority party, have more often used holds not to clarify last-minute questions but to disrupt or stop the majority's agenda. A hold attached by a single senator can force the majority to come up with 60 votes just to get a bill or a nomination on the floor, often an impossible task.

While few senators are calling for an outright ban on holds, many from both parties now say that colleagues who have objections to a nomination or bill should be required to go public and explain the reasons for their objections.

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