This is pool reporting from John Bennett at CQ Rollcall (cqrollcall.com), about Trump’s meeting on his nominee to Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. Note the people in attendance, and how he is perfectly fine with the “nuclear option” – going to a 51 vote threshold instead of 60 (intended to get a more mainstream candidate for a lifetime appointment intended to make them independent of partisan politics):
POTUS entered the Roosevelt Room at 11:45 a.m., greeting guests from groups the White House worked with while selecting a SCOTUS nominee and will be working with to get Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court. He shook hands with several attendees before urging them to sit around the large table.
The news first, to review last Pool report for those who might have missed it. In response to a question from Fox’s John Roberts, the president endorsed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell using the so-called “nuclear option” to get Gorsuch confirmed with 50 votes, rather than the 60 needed now to end debate and move to an up-or-down floor vote. Here is POTUS’s response:
“Yes, if we end up with the same gridlock we’ve had in Washington for longer than neight years, in all fairness to President Obama, a lot longer than eight years. If we end up with that gridlock I would say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear.’ Because that would would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect. I would say it’s up to Mitch, but I would say, ‘Go for it.”
About six minutes before endorsing the “nuclear option,” POTUS began the session by holding Florida-based televangelist Paula White’s chair.
Of Gorsuch, Trump said he doesn’t “know how anyone can oppose him at all.”
“He’s a terrific person, by the way. I got to know him reasonably well. … He is just a spectacular man, and I think he’s going to be a spectacular [justice]. … He’s perfect in just about every way.”
POTUS said, nearly two weeks into the job, that defending the country is the office’s most important function. No. 2 would be selecting a Supreme Court nominee. Trump took a shot at President Obama, saying, ““We have problems that are a lot bigger than people understood. I was left something…with a lot of problems.” He vowed to “straighten them out very strongly.”
Trump predicted Senate Democrats will “look for the “almosts” in Gorsuch’s legal background, but he did not elaborate on any concerns he might have or a strategy to counter such a line of attack.
He called his nominee an “exceptionally qualified person from the standpoint of experience and education – Columbia University with honors, Harvard Law School with honors, Oxford at the highest level. … Great intellect.”
“We want to watch him go through an elegant process as opposed to a demeaning process. They’re very demeaning on the other side. They want to make him look as bad as possible. Of course, the media can very demeaning, as well. … I really think he’s a very dignified man, and I would like to see him go through a dignified process. I think he deserves that. And hopefully it will go quickly. And we will see what happens….
“I think there’s a certain dishonesty if they go against their vote from not very long ago. He did get a unanimous endorsement. … You can’t do it better, from an educational…from any standpoint. A great judge, he’ll be a great justice. I feel it’s very dishonest if they go back [on their previous votes].”
During the SCOTUS meeting, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sat at the far end of the table with a stern facial expression, just as he did in the morning’s “listening session.” There was no senior adviser Jared Kushner in this meeting with SCOTUS groups, but White House counselor Kellyanne Conway sat a few seats to Trump’s right, near Priebus. Vice President Mike Pence stood to the left of the table in a dark suit, white shirt and bright red tie, his arms crossed at his chest for a few minutes.
Full list of attendees, per the White House:
Mr. Morton Blackwell, The Leadership Institute
Mr. Tom Collamore, U.S. Chamber of Commerce — attendance TBD
Ms. Marjorie Dannenfelser, Susan B. Anthony List
Ms. Juanita D. Duggan, National Federation of Independent Business
Mr. Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association
Mr. Leonard Leo, Federalist Society
Ms. Penny Nance, Concerned Women for America
Mr. Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
Mr. David O’Steen, National Right to Life
Ms. Paula White, New Destiny Christian Center
Ms. Charmaine Yoest, American Values
Ahead of the April 19 New York State Primary, the gloves came off between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at what is being called “The Brooklyn Brawl” – the Democratic Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The confrontation was the most contentious to date, but still substantive with both candidates making strong arguments on major issues.
Here are annotated highlights from the “Brooklyn Brawl” – the debate between Democratic contenders for the nomination for president, former Secretary of State and New York State Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, based on a transcript provided by CNN, the news organization that hosted the debate, April 14.
In this section, the candidates debate universal health care, free college, the US Supreme Court, and for the first time in all the debates, what the Supreme Court means for women’s reproductive rights.
Universal Health Care, Free College, Supreme Court
Senator Sanders, you’re promising health care and free college for all, and those plans would be met with both political and practical challenges. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says your initiatives would cost up to $28 trillion and, even after massive tax increases, that would add as much as $15 trillion to the national debt. How is this fiscally responsible?
SANDERS: Well, first of all, I disagree with that study. There are many economists who come up with very, very different numbers.
For example, we are the only country, major country on Earth, that does not guarantee health care to all people, and yet we end up spending almost three times what the British do, 50 percent more than the French. My proposal, a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program, will save (APPLAUSE) will save middle-class families many thousands of dollars a year in their health care costs. Public colleges and universities tuition free? Damn right. That is exactly what we should be doing. (APPLAUSE)
“And I’d pay for that — I’d pay for that by telling Wall Street that, yeah, we are going to have a tax on Wall Street speculation, which will bring in more than enough money to provide free tuition at public colleges and universities and lower the outrageous level of student debt.
“Wolf, we have seen in the last 30 years a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top 0.1 percent. The establishment does not like this idea, but, yes, I am determined to transfer that money back to the working families of this country. (APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: Well, again — again, I absolutely agree with the diagnosis, the diagnosis that we’ve got to do much more to finish the work of getting universal health care coverage, something that I’ve worked on for 25 years. Before there was something called Obamacare, there was something called Hillarycare. And we’re now at 90 percent of coverage; I’m going to get us to 100 percent.
“And with respect to college, I think we have to make college affordable. We are pricing out middle-class, working, and poor families. There’s no doubt about that.
But I do think when you make proposals and you’re running for president, you should be held accountable for whether or not the numbers add up and whether or not the plans (APPLAUSE) are actually going to work.
“And just very briefly, on health care, most of the people who have analyzed what Senator Sanders put out — remember, he had a plan for about, I don’t know, 18, 20 years. He changed in the middle of this campaign. He put out another plan. People have been analyzing the new plan. And there is no doubt by those who have analyzed it, progressive economists, health economists, and the like, that it would pose an incredible burden, not just on the budget, but on individuals. In fact, the Washington Post called it a train-wreck for the poor. A working woman on Medicaid who already has health insurance would be expected to pay about $2,300.
“The same for free college. The free college offer — you know, my late father said, if somebody promises you something for free, read the fine print. You read the fine print, and here’s what it says.
“The fine print says this, that it will — the federal government will cover two-thirds of the cost and require the states, even those led by Republican governors to carry out what the remaining one-third of the cost.”
SANDERS: We are not a country that has the courage to stand up to big money and do what has to be done for the working families of the country. (APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: We have a difference of opinion. We both want to get to universal health care coverage. I did stand up to the special interests and the powerful forces, the health insurance companies and the drug companies. (APPLAUSE)
“And perhaps that’s why I am so much in favor of supporting President Obama’s signature accomplishment with the Affordable Care Act, because I know how hard it was to get that passed, even with a Democratic Congress. So rather than letting the Republicans repeal it or rather starting all over again, trying to throw the country into another really contentious debate, let’s make the Affordable Care Act work for everybody let’s get to 100 percent coverage, let’s get the cost down, and let’s guarantee health care.”
BLITZER: Secretary, let’s talk about Social Security, another critically important issue. Senator Sanders has challenged you to give a clear answer when it comes to extending the life of Social Security and expanding benefits. Are you prepared to lift the cap on taxable income, which currently stands at $118,500? Yes or no, would you lift the cap?
CLINTON: I have said repeatedly, Wolf, I am going to make the wealthy pay into Social Security to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. That is one way. If that is the way that we pursue, I will follow that.
“But there are other ways. We should be looking at taxing passive income by wealthy people. We should be looking at taxing all of their investment.
“But here’s the real issue, because I — I’ve heard this, I’ve seen the reports of it. I have said from the very beginning, we are going to protect Social Security. I was one of the leaders in the fight against Bush when he was trying to privatize Social Security.
“But we also, in addition to extending the Trust Fund, which I am absolutely determined to do, we’ve got to help people who are not being taken care of now. And because Social Security started in the 1930s, a lot of women have been left out and left behind.
“And it’s time that we provide more benefits for widows, divorcees, for caregivers, for women who deserve more from the Social Security system and that will be my highest priority.” (APPLAUSE)
SANDERS: Now, we’ve got — here is the issue. Your answer has been the same year after year. In fact, the idea that I’m bringing forth, I have to admit it, you know, it wasn’t my idea. It was Barack Obama’s idea in 2008, the exact same idea. (APPLAUSE)
“He called for lifting the cap, which is now higher — it’s at 118 — and starting at 250 and going on up. If you do that, you’re going to extend the life of Social Security for 58 years. You will significantly expand benefits by 1,300 bucks a year for seniors and disabled vets under $16,000 a year. What’s wrong with that? Are you prepared to support it?
CLINTON: I have supported it. You know, we are in vigorous agreement here, Senator.
‘You know, we’re having a discussion about the best way to raise money from wealthy people to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. Think about what the other side wants to do. They’re calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme. They still want to privatize it. In fact, their whole idea is to turn over the Social Security Trust Fund to Wall Street, something you and I would never let happen.
“I’ve said the same thing for years. I didn’t say anything different tonight. We are going to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. There is still something called Congress. Now, I happen to support Democrats and I want to get Democrats to take back the majority in the United States Senate so a lot of — a lot of what we’re talking about can actually be implemented when I am president.”
SANDERS: — maybe I’m a little bit confused.
“Are you or are you not supporting legislation to lift the cap on taxable income and expand Social Security for 58 years and increase benefits…”
CLINTON: I am…
SANDERS: — yes or no?
CLINTON: I have said yes, we are going to pick the best way or combination…
SANDERS: Oh, you — ah. (APPLAUSE) (BOOS)
CLINTON: — or combination of ways… (BOOS)
CLINTON: — you know… (BOOS)
CLINTON: — it — it’s all — it’s always a little bit, uh, challenging because, you know, if Senator Sanders doesn’t agree with how you are approaching something, then you are a member of the establishment. Well, let me say then…
SANDERS: Well, look (APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: — let me say this (APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: — we are going to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. We’ve got some good ideas to do it. Let’s get a Congress elected that will actually agree with us in doing it.
SANDERS: Yes, Secretary Clinton (CROSSTALK) you are a member of the establishment.
Secretary Clinton, regarding President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. President Obama said earlier this week that he would not withdraw the nomination, even after the presidential election. If elected, would you ask the president to withdraw the nomination?
CLINTON: I am not going to contradict the president’s strategy on this. And I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals. I fully support the president. (APPLAUSE)
“And I believe that the president — the president is on the right side of both the Constitution and history. And the Senate needs to immediately begin to respond. So I’m going to support the president. When I am president, I will take stock of where we are and move from there.”
SANDERS: Well, there is no question. I mean, it really is an outrage. And it just continues, the seven-and-a-half years of unbelievable obstructionism we have seen from these right-wing Republicans.
“I mean, a third-grader in America understands the president of the United States has the right to nominate individuals to the U.S. Supreme Court. Apparently everybody understands that except the Republicans in Congress.
LOUIS: So, Senator Sanders, would you ask him to withdraw the nomination?
SANDERS: Yes, but here is the point, and obviously i will strongly support that nomination as a member of the Senate. But, if elected president, I would ask the president to withdraw that nomination because I think — I think this.
“I think that we need a Supreme Court justice who will make it crystal clear, and this nominee has not yet done that, crystal clear that he or she will vote to overturn Citizens United and make sure that American democracy is not undermined.” (APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: You know, there is no doubt that the only people that I would ever appoint to the Supreme Court are people who believe that Roe V. Wade is settled law and Citizens United needs to be overturned.
“And I want to say something about this since we’re talking about the Supreme Court and what’s at stake. We’ve had eight debates before, this is our ninth. We’ve not had one question about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care, not one question. (APPLAUSE)
“And in the meantime we have states, governors doing everything they can to restrict women’s rights. We have a presidential candidate by the name of Donald Trump saying that women should be punished. And we are never asked about this.
“And to be complete in my concern, Senator Sanders says with respect to Trump it was a distraction. I don’t think it’s a distraction. It goes to the heart of who we are as women, our rights, our autonomy, our ability to make our own decisions, and we need to be talking about that and defending Planned Parenthood from these outrageous attacks.”
SANDERS: You’re looking at a senator and former congressman who proudly has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record, who will take on those Republican governors who are trying to restrict a woman’s right to choose, who will take on those governors right now who are discriminating outrageously against the LGBT community, who comes from a state which led the effort for gay marriage in this country, proudly so. (APPLAUSE) Who not only thinks we are not going to — not defund Planned Parenthood, we’ve got to expand funding for Planned Parenthood. (APPLAUSE)
With the care and consideration of a Constitutional lawyer, President Obama laid out his argument for his authority and responsibility to nominate a Justice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Antonin Scalia, and the Senate’s obligation and responsibility to “advise” and hold a vote.
He chastised – and warned – about the politicization of the process which ultimately undermines “the credibility” and the authority of the Supreme Court, itself, just as the ability of government to function has been undermined by extreme partisanship and polarization:
“If, in fact, the Republicans in the Senate take a posture that defies the Constitution, defies logic, is not supported by tradition simply because of politics, then invariably what you’re going to see is a further deterioration in the ability of any President to make any judicial appointments,” President Obama said. “And appointments to the Supreme Court as well as the federal bench suddenly become a complete extension of our polarized politics…the credibility of the Court itself begins to diminish because it’s viewed simply as an extension of our politics.”
Here’s the full transcript of Obama’s comments on the Supreme Court process. He spoke at length – about 10 minutes – in answer to a question at a press conference:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the Constitution says that I nominate candidates for the Supreme Court when there’s a vacancy, and that the Senate exercises its constitutional role in advise and consent. I’m going to do my job. We are going to go through a process, as we have done in two previous Supreme Court vacancies, to identify an outstanding candidate that has impeccable legal credentials and would bring the kind of ability and compassion and objectivity and legal reasoning to the Court that the Highest Court in the Land demands.
One side made the nomination, and then Leader McConnell and all the members of the Senate are going to make a decision about how do they fulfill their constitutional responsibilities. I recognize the politics are hard for them, because the easier thing to do is to give in to the most extreme voices within their party and stand pat and do nothing. But that’s not our job. Our job is to fulfill our constitutional duties.
And so my hope and expectation is that once there is an actual nominee and once this is no longer an abstraction, that those on the Judiciary Committee recognize that their job is to give this person a hearing, to show the courtesy of meeting with them. They are then free to vote whatever their conscience dictates as to whether this person is qualified or not. In the meantime, the American people are going to have the ability to gauge whether the person I’ve nominated is well within the mainstream, is a good jurist, is somebody who’s worthy to sit on the Supreme Court.
And I think it will be very difficult for Mr. McConnell to explain how, if the public concludes that this person is very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons. We’ll see what happens. And I think the situation may evolve over time. I don’t expect Mitch McConnell to say that is the case today. I don’t expect any member of the Republican caucus to stick their head out at the moment and say that. But let’s see how the public responds to the nominee that we put forward.
The one thing I think is important to dispel is any notion that somehow this is some well-established tradition, or some constitutional principle that a President in his last year of office cannot fill the Supreme Court vacancy. It’s not in the text of the Constitution. Ironically, these are Republicans who say they believe in reading the text of the Constitution and focusing on the intent of the Constitution. But none of the Founding Fathers thought that when it comes to the President carrying out his duties, he should do it for three years and then on the last year stop doing it.
There’s an argument that, well, the President shouldn’t do this because he is a lame duck. Well, the truth of the matter is, is that traditionally the term “lame duck” refers to the two or three months after an election has taken place in which a new President is about to be sworn in. I’ve got a year to go. I don’t think they would approve of me abdicating on my duties as Commander-in-Chief and to stop doing all the other work that I got to do. Well, this is part of my job.
There’s been arguments that for 80 years this has been the tradition. Well, that’s not the case. Justice Kennedy was approved after being nominated by Ronald Reagan in Ronald Reagan’s last year of office. They say, well, that’s different because he had been nominated in 1987, even if he was confirmed — or ’85 — even if he was confirmed in ’86. Well, the notion that there is some two-month period in which suddenly it all flips and everything shuts down, that’s not a credible argument.
What other arguments are they making? They suggest that, well, there had been a couple of times where Democrats said it would be wise for a President not to nominate someone. First of all, we know senators say stuff all the time. Second of all, these were comments that were made where there was no actual nomination at stake. So it has no application to the actual situation that we have right now.
I’m trying to think of any other reeds that they’re grasping here as to why they would not carry out their duties. And I can’t really think of one.
I recognize that this is an important issue for their constituencies, and it’s particularly sensitive because this was Justice Scalia’s seat that is now vacant and that a whole host of decisions on the Supreme Court could turn on this ninth justice and their vote.
But that’s how our democracy is supposed to work. And what I do — the last point I’ll make — we have already seen a breakdown of the judicial appointment process that gets worse and worse each and every year, each and every Congress. It becomes harder and harder to get any candidates for the judiciary confirmed. We saw Senator Reid have to employ the so-called “nuclear option” because there was such a logjam in terms of getting judicial appointments through.
If, in fact, the Republicans in the Senate take a posture that defies the Constitution, defies logic, is not supported by tradition simply because of politics, then invariably what you’re going to see is a further deterioration in the ability of any President to make any judicial appointments. And appointments to the Supreme Court as well as the federal bench suddenly become a complete extension of our polarized politics.
And at that point, not only are you going to see more and more vacancies and the court systems break down, but the credibility of the Court itself begins to diminish because it’s viewed simply as an extension of our politics — this is a Republican judge or this is a Democratic judge, as opposed to, this is a Supreme Court justice who is supposed to be standing above the day-to-day politics that take place.
So I understand the posture that they’re taking right now. I get the politics of it. I’m sure they’re under enormous pressure from their base and their constituencies around this issue. I’ve talked to many of them, and I’ve told them I’m sympathetic. And, by the way, there’s not a lot of vigor when they defend the position that they’re taking, that they wouldn’t even meet, for example, with a Supreme Court nominee. They’re pretty sheepish about it when they make those comments.
So we’ll see how this plays itself out. But I’m going to do my job. I’m going to nominate somebody and let the American people decide as to whether that person is qualified. And if they are qualified, let the American people decide whether there’s enough time for the U.S. Senate to hold hearings and have a vote. It’s not as if, from what I see, the Senate calendar is so full that we don’t have time to get this done.