It took less than an hour before Senators considering federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to the Supreme Court fell into disagreement over Hurricane Katrina.
In their opening remarks, the two top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee invoked the tragedy as a reminder of the gap between rich and poor and the need for a Supreme Court that wants to close that gap.
"Today, the devastation, despair facing millions of our fellow Americans in the Gulf region is a tragic reminder of why we have a federal government, why it's critical that our government be responsive," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking minority member of the panel.
"We need the federal government for our protection and security, to cast a lifeline to those in distress, to mobilize better resources beyond the ability of any state and local government -- all of this for the common good."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, said lessons should be learned from the hurricane.
"The powerful winds and flood waters of Katrina tore away the mask that has hidden from public view the many Americans who are left out and left behind," he said. "As one nation under God, we cannot continue to ignore the injustice, the inequality and the gross disparities that exist in our society."
Within moments, the office of Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the committee, issued a statement accusing Mr. Leahy and Mr. Kennedy of using the victims of the hurricane "in an attempt to score political points."
"I believe the American people will see this for what it is," said Mr. Cornyn, according to the statement. "We ought not to appropriate a national tragedy in a misguided effort to further a political interest of any sort."
Wendy Long, counsel for the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, accused the Democrats of "exploiting the national tragedy."
"Reasonable, fair-minded Democrats should prevail on their more extremist Senate colleagues to back off these inappropriate tactics," she said. "Grandstanding, deception and cavalierly playing politics with the human tragedy wrought by the hurricane will not endear Senate Democrats to the American people."
The Cornyn statement went on to predict: "Others likely will make similar attempts in a bizarre effort to link Judge Roberts to the tragedies in the Gulf of Mexico. But Katrina victims should not be used to score political points."