WASHINGTON — Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning stopped by his hotel Wednesday during a break in the Supreme Court's health care arguments — and ran into former Sen. Bob Kerrey eating lunch in the hotel restaurant.
Bruning is the frontrunner in a crowded field vying to be the GOP nominee for Nebraska's open Senate seat, while Kerrey is the frontrunner on the Democrats' side.
The encounter was short but convivial, by Bruning's account. Kerrey, who was in town for a fundraiser, suggested that he sit down for lunch, but Bruning said he had to get moving.
They ribbed each other over the court case and the Senate campaign.
Bruning pointed out how Kerrey had once chided him for a lack of courage when Bruning abandoned his 2008 Senate bid to make way for fellow Republican and former Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns.
Kerrey retorted by recalling the exact — and profane — phrase he had used to question Bruning's courage.
It was a lighthearted moment in a busy week for Bruning, who sat in the courtroom for all three days of arguments, conducted interviews with national and local reporters and also contended with the never-ending business of running for office.
That included a string of fundraisers and meetings with senators he hopes will be his colleagues next year.
His political opponents have charged that he was using the Supreme Court arguments this week as a prop for what was really a campaign trip. Bruning responded by saying he came to Washington to do the work of the people and fight to shrink the scope of the federal government.
At Wednesday afternoon's session, Bruning was positioned right in front of the justices at the counsel table or, as he said, "close enough to feel the heat of their breath, so to speak."
Bruning was among the first attorneys general to jump on the legal challenge to the health care law. Ultimately, 26 states joined the cause.
The attorney representing the states in court, Paul Clement, capped his fees at $250,000, Bruning said. Nebraska contributed $20,000 to the cause, Bruning said.
He cited a growing sentiment after this week's arguments that the court actually could overturn the health care law and noted that the courtroom was full of constitutional law professors who had mocked the lawsuit when it was filed.
"Every law professor in the country, it seemed like, was on the TV news as talking heads saying ... that the AGs can't win it, it's frivolous, it's laughable," Bruning said. "It's quite interesting how things have changed."
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