Highlights of Day 1 of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Gorsuch

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 4:03 PM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 4:03 PM

As the central figure in one of the most contentious confirmation hearings in years, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said Monday judges should not be “secret legislators” and vowed to apply the law in an impartial fashion while seeking consensus whenever possible.

Appearing before enthusiastic Republicans and skeptical Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch portrayed himself as an independent voice modeled after former Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Robert Jackson, declaring Jackson “reminded us that when you become a judge, you fiercely defend only one client – the law.”

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“These days we sometimes hear judges cynically described as politicians in robes, seeking to enforce their own politics rather than striving to apply the law impartially,” Gorsuch said in his opening statement. “If I thought that were true, I’d hang up the robe.”

“If judges were just secret legislators -- declaring not what the law is, but what they would like it to be -- the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk,” Gorsuch said. “And those who came before the court would live in fear, never sure exactly what the law requires of them it except for the judge’s will.”

Gorsuch, who faces two days of questioning Tuesday and Wednesday by committee members, clearly used his opening statement to assuage Democratic fears that he is an implacable conservative while simultaneously trying to establish his independence, a way to distance himself from President Donald Trump, who nominated him last month to fill the seat left vacant by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon for the past three decades.

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Gorsuch, 49, a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado, delivered his 15-minute statement after sitting through more than three hours of deeply partisan opening statements from committee members.

Senate Democrats, backed by progressive legal organizations, have sharply complained that Republicans unfairly kept the seat open when they refused last year to hold a hearing for federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by former President Barack Obama.

But they also made clear their anger is directed against Trump, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., saying the “independence of those judges has never been more threatened and never more important, and a large part of the threat comes from the man who nominated you who has launched a campaign of vicious and relentless attacks" on the judiciary.

“Just hours ago, not far from here, the director of the FBI revealed that his agency is investigating potential ties between President Trump’s associates and Russian meddling in our election," Blumenthal said.

He warned of “the possibility" that he Supreme Court might need "to enforce a subpoena against the president is no longer idle speculation,” pointing to the court’s 1974 case directing President Richard M. Nixon to yield White House taped recordings demanded by special prosecutors investigating the Watergate scandal.

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Gorsuch listened attentively through opening statements by committee members, often jotting down notes on a yellow legal pad. When it came time for him to speak, he did so in a clear, but soothing voice.

Rather than accepting the challenge from Senate Democrats, he steered clear of ideological labels and said “putting on” a judge’s black robe “reminds us judges that it’s time to lose our egos and open our minds."

“It’s for this body -- the people’s representatives -- to make new laws, for the executive to make sure those laws are faithfully executed, and for neutral and independent judges to apply the law in the people’s disputes,” Gorsuch said.

He suggested his judicial style was closer to White and Justice Anthony Kennedy, both of whom he clerked for when they were on the high court in the 1980s, pointedly saying Kennedy “showed me that judges can disagree without being disagreeable.”

By doing so, Gorsuch was doing his best to describe his role as limited to interpreting the law, much like Chief Justice John Roberts did during his confirmation hearings in 2005 when he told the same committee that “judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.”

Reminding lawmakers that he grew up in Colorado, he said “in the West, we listen to one another respectfully. We tolerate. We cherish different points of view. And we seek consensus whenever we can.”

Because five current members of the court support abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Gorsuch will not change the balance of power on those key questions. But on a host of other issues, such as whether judges should grant broad authority to federal agencies to interpret laws approved by Congress, Gorsuch could emerge as a key vote.

Air Force redirects more money to small businesses; area firms benefit

Published: Monday, February 27, 2017 @ 6:02 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 09, 2017 @ 5:59 PM

Small businesses got a huge boost from the Air Force last fiscal year, but uncertainty in the federal budget means no one is too sure yet if the trend will continue.

Spending on small businesses by the Air Force Materiel Command reached a record $5.4 billion nationally in the 2016 fiscal year, which provided a nice influx for some local companies.

“That is the most we have ever spent on small businesses, ever, and it’s almost a billion dollars more than we spent” the prior year, said Farris Welsh, AFMC small business director.

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Of that $5.4 billion, about 9 percent — or $494.8 million — was spent in Ohio, nearly all of it spent on firms with defense contracts in Montgomery and Greene counties, figures show.

Since fiscal year 2013, AFMC spending on small businesses nationwide rose nearly 50 percent and jumped nearly 70 percent in Ohio, Air Force figures show.

No accident

The emphasis on smaller firms was no accident. Officials say smaller companies can be more innovative and move quicker on some tasks. Among the targets were businesses in urban hub zones, those owned by women and small businesses owned by disabled veterans, according to Air Force documents.

Whether the emphasis continues — or how much money will be allotted — isn’t known yet. The Trump administration could boost defense spending as much as $54 billion in fiscal year 2018 and at least $20 billion this year, reports said Monday. But where that might be spent and how it could impact spending on small businesses isn’t detailed.

RELATED: Big surge in military in Trump’s budget; big cuts elsewhere

With the federal government under a continuing resolution that kept spending levels in place after the fiscal year started Oct. 1, the government faces a late April deadline to pass a budget before funding runs out.

“Until they do that, we’re kind of in limbo,” Welsh said.

More agility sought

Manufacturing, research and development and engineering services were key investment areas, officials said.

Welsh said AFMC launched more community outreach and showed businesses how to find and apply for contracts.

The Air Force Research Laboratory has posted similar hikes in small business spending. Figures show a rise in spending from $890.5 million in fiscal year 2013, to $1.3 billion last fiscal year.

The Dayton region snared virtually all the AFRL small business spending in Ohio, receiving $258.3 million in fiscal year 2016, compared with $169.1 million three years earlier.

RELATED: AFRL hub could have downtown Dayton location

“It has been steadily increasing,” William E. Harrison, AFRL small business director, said of the emphasis on working with smaller firms. “Small businesses have a lot of great innovation (and) they can be more agile. Sometimes in the innovation space, they are the cutting edge of innovation and connecting them with our solicitations, our announcements is key and that’s what’s driving the numbers up.”

In recent years, AFRL has emphasized developing and funding dual-use technologies that could be spun off in the commercial market while meeting the demands of warfighters.

Small business innovative research funds are part of that push, Harrison said. “We have really tough, vexing problems that we really like innovative companies to work with us with.”

Joseph Sciabica, president of Beavercreek-based Universal Technology Corp. and a former AFRL director, said generally the science and research agency looks to small businesses for new and fresh perspectives to solve problems.

“Small business, especially those that are working with the (Defense Department), have some good insights into the areas that the defense systems and platforms have to operate in,” he said. “It has to work every time.”

Broadened footprint

Air Force small business contracts are the “lifeblood” of companies like UTC, Sciabica said. AFMC listed UTC as the second highest contract recipient at $37.6 million in fiscal year 2016 based on vendor location. The 240-employee company has added about 30 workers the past three years.

RELATED: Defense contractor UTC aims to get more products into market

Sawdey Solution Services Inc. of Beavercreek also credits Air Force small business contracts with helping it grow from 100 employees four years ago to 350 now.

“We’ve really broadened our footprint over the last couple of years,” company President Connie Sawdey said. “I think all of the services have been putting a significant focus on meeting their small business goals and we have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”

With contracts in 22 states, the company provides consulting and management services, such as engineering and cyber security.

AFMC listed Sawdey Solution Services within the top five for small business vendors with $22.3 million in contracts last fiscal year.

Deborah Gross, executive director of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association, said her organization has reached out to technology companies that would be a good fit in the defense industry.

“Many times the advancement and technologies being made in those areas are being made by small businesses,” she said.

Gross said the federal government must do more to speed up acquisitions to help businesses that win contracts, however.

“It can be a very long process just to figure out who to talk to,” she said.

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House, Senate go different ways on probe of election meddling by Russia

Published: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 3:20 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 3:20 PM

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections vowed at a joint news conference on Wednesday to conduct a thorough and bipartisan probe, clearly setting themselves apart from their House counterparts, who are locked in a bitter, partisan struggle over the course of their review.

“The committee will go wherever the intelligence leads us,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“We’re here to assure you – and more importantly the American people who are watching and listening – that we will get to the bottom of this,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on that panel.

Without going into much detail on who might be in for questioning when by the committee, Burr and Warner set out the basics of their probe, saying seven full-time staff members are spending weeks going through documents of the Intelligence Community on what Russia did in 2016.

Burr described the review as, “challenging to say the least,” as both men made clear this was turning out to be maybe their most important duty – ever – in the Congress.

“This is one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here,” said Burr, who was first elected to the Congress in 1994.

The cooperation among members on the Senate Intelligence Committee stands in stark contrast to the infighting and finger pointing going on across the Capitol on the House Intelligence Committee.

“Our investigation is stalled,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), as he blamed panel chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) for canceling a variety of meetings set for this week.

“I think he needs to recuse himself,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) said of Nunes, as Democrats furiously contend that the sprint by Nunes to brief President Trump last week on intelligence – which he still has not shared with his committee – signals something is wrong.

On the other side in the House, Republicans don’t see anything wrong with the work of Nunes, and argue Democrats are pushing conspiracy theories that have no evidence behind them.

“This is media speculation being fueled by Democrats,” said Rep. Peter King (R-NY).

But over on the Senate side of the Capitol, some fellow Republicans have made clear their displeasure with the actions of Nunes over the last week – and at today’s news conference – Burr and Warner made clear they were running a different operation.

“We’re not asking the House to play any role in our investigation, and we don’t plan to play any role in their investigation,” Burr told reporters.

Thursday will bring a public hearing for the Senate Intelligence Committee that will focus on what Russia has been up to on the internet, using the opportunity to warn European nations what they may face when they hold elections in coming months.

“I think it’s safe by everybody’s judgment that the Russians are actively involved in the French elections,” Burr said, giving one example.

Sen. Brown says he is ‘ready’ to work with Trump on some ACA changes

Published: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 1:58 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 1:58 PM


            Sen. Sherrod Brown and 43 other Senate Democrats told President Donald Trump they are “ready and willing” to work with the White House to stabilize the individual insurance markets established by the 2010 health law known as Obamacare. AP Photo

Sen. Sherrod Brown and 43 other Senate Democrats told President Donald Trump they are “ready and willing” to work with the White House to stabilize the individual insurance markets established by the 2010 health law known as Obamacare.

Just days after House Republicans gave up efforts to scrap the law signed by President Barack Obama and replace it with a more market-oriented approach, the 44 Senate Democrats made their offer today in a letter to Trump.

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In a conference call with reporters, Brown said he would consider changes to attract younger and healthier people into the insurance pools for the individual market. The law offers middle-income people without health coverage to buy individual insurance policies through federal and state marketplaces known as exchanges. But premiums on those policies have increased because not enough young and healthy people tried to buy policies in the marketplaces.

“We have said all along on the Affordable Care Act that if we had more young people in the pool….it would stabilize prices,” Brown told reporters on a conference call today.

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In a floor speech today, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said if Trump ends his efforts to “undermine the” health law, “we Democrats are ready to sit down with him and Republicans in Congress in good faith to discuss a bipartisan approach to improving our health care system.”

6 things to know about Jared Kushner

Published: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 1:28 PM

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 7:  Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, listens during a county sheriff listening session with U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on February 7, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Pool/Getty Images

When it comes to the Donald Trump administration, the president is keeping it in the family, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who serves as his senior adviser.

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In the coming weeks, he’ll speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee as a part of an investigation into the Russian’s involvement with the U.S. election. Additionally, he’ll be organizing American Innovation, a new office charged with using ideas from the business world and applying them to government functions.

But aside from his political endeavors, what else do you know about the politician? From his alma mater to his career background, test your knowledge with these six facts:

1. He’s a Harvard and NYU grad.

He graduated from Harvard in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in government. In 2007, he earned his J.D. and MBA from New York University.

2. He and Ivanka began dating in 2005. 

The pair wed in 2009 in a Jewish ceremony. They have three children together -- Arabella, Fredrick and Theodore -- who range from the ages of 1 to 5. 

3. He’s an Orthodox Jew.

Ivanka converted to Judaism from Presbyterianism before they wed. They are both shomrei Shabbos, who observe the Sabbath. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, they turn off their phones and walk instead of drive.

4. He was in an episode “Gossip Girl.”

In 2010, he and his wife appeared on the show as themselves in season four. Ivanka tweeted, “Jared & I had a ball on the set of #GossipGirl this AM.”

5. He had a stake in the Observer.

Kushner bought the New York publication in 2006 for $10 million at age 25. Last year, he stepped down as publisher to accept a job with the Trump administration as a senior adviser to the president. He has no prior political experience.

6. He was previously a Democrat.

He was a registered Democrat for years, making donations to the organization regularly. At the start of the 2016 election, he became an Independent to support his father-in-law.