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

Gorsuch hearing

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.

At odds on immigration and spending, Congress stares at a Friday night government shutdown

Published: Thursday, January 18, 2018 @ 6:07 PM

Unable to bridge the partisan divide on immigration, federal spending levels and more, Republicans and Democrats in the Congress were on the verge of letting funding for the government lapse at midnight on Friday night, as members of both parties eagerly pointed the finger of blame at each other for the spending impasse, which could trigger the first federal shutdown in over four years.

“That would be a mistake,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). “Government shutdowns do not make sense.”

That Republican argument carried the day in the House, as lawmakers voted mainly along party lines Thursday evening in favor of a four week temporary funding plan – but once the bill reached the Senate floor, leaders quickly sent Senators home for the night, unable to agree on how best to proceed.

“They’re prepared to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared of Democrats, as McConnell said there was no reason to rush on solving problems with DACA and Dreamers, as GOP leaders struggled to get a majority of Senators to vote for the House-passed bill.

Meanwhile, Democrats complained that immigration talks have been slow walked by Republicans and the White House, and that it was time to force a solution on immigration, overall budget limits and more.

“We should be united in trying to come to a solution, not just kick the can down the road,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

If Congress is unable to reach a spending agreement by midnight, then many government functions would start to wind down over the weekend.

In the House, Republicans said now was the time for more negotiations, not a spending impasse which would close many government operations.

“We’ve kept the government open,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK). “The right thing for the Senate to do would be to vote yes, and continue to negotiate.”

“I now just implore the Senate, do your job,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA).

As Senators gathered on the floor late Thursday, a number of illegal immigrant “Dreamers” were seated in the galleries, watching the debate below.

“Look at the people who have gathered here late this night, who are following every word that we are debating,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).

“Why are they here if there’s no urgency?” added Durbin, who is a leading negotiator for Democrats on DACA and immigration issues.

But while Durbin and other Democrats called for action on a bipartisan agreement on Senators from both parties related to DACA, their plan had still not been put into legislative language.

GOP Senators pointed out that lack of a bill in making the case that no deal was likely over the weekend on immigration, and again saying that the deadline was not until March.

“This institution regrettably needs to be forced into action,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who broke ranks with his party’s leadership to vote against a stopgap budget, demanding immediate action on DACA.

“We don’t have to wait until March, it would be cruel to wait until March,” Curbelo told reporters after the House had voted.

As for President Donald Trump, the White House schedule issued for Friday still had him going to his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, where a party to celebrate the one year anniversary of Mr. Trump’s inauguration was reportedly scheduled for Saturday.

Also on Mr. Trump’s Friday schedule was an address to thousands rallying for the March for Life, and a meeting with his national security team in the White House Situation Room.

But Democrats only saw one thing – Air Force One leaving town.

“Trump going to Mar-a-Lago while government shutdown looms is most irresponsible, self absorbed, dereliction of duty ever by a President,” tweeted Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).

But even as both sides traded barbs, there was a lot of frustration among Republicans over the budget process, which has become stuck in neutral on a regular basis.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that we are sitting here today, having not funded the government permanently for the balance of this year,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

If the federal government does shut down this weekend, it would be the first spending impasse since 2013, when Republicans blocked action on funding bills for 16 days, protesting the implementation of the Obama health law.

House passes temporary budget bill in effort to avert shutdown

Published: Thursday, January 18, 2018 @ 4:43 PM


            House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 18, 2018. President Donald Trump blew up Republican strategies to keep the government open past Friday when on Thursday morning he said a long-term extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program should not be part of a stopgap spending bill pending before the House. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
            ERIN SCHAFF
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 18, 2018. President Donald Trump blew up Republican strategies to keep the government open past Friday when on Thursday morning he said a long-term extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program should not be part of a stopgap spending bill pending before the House. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)(ERIN SCHAFF)

House Republicans pushed through a bill Thursday to keep the federal government open for another four weeks after GOP leaders promised to boost defense spending in a separate bill next month.

By a vote of 230-to-197, the House sent the bill to Senate where Democrats have vowed to block it because it does not offer legal guarantees for the children of undocumented immigrants, a program known as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA.

Because the bill needs 60 votes to win Senate approval, the federal government could partially close at midnight Friday for the first time since 2013 if the bill collapses in the Senate. But Thursday’s House vote intensifies pressure on the Senate to keep the government open.

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Senate Democrats such as Sherrod Brown of Ohio are likely to support the temporary spending measure because it extends for six years a program he strongly supports that provides health coverage to 220,000 low-income children in Ohio.

The program, the 1997 Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, is popular with both political parties while governors such as Republican John Kasich and Ohio hospitals have beseeched Congress to extend the program. It expired at the end of last September, forcing Congress to extend it with temporary spending measures.

The major obstacle for House Republicans was their insistence that billions of additional federal dollars be provided for national defense. Under a 2013 law aimed at restraining spending, the government could not spend more $549 billion for defense in the 2018 federal spending year.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was able to persuade defense hawks such as Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, to support the bill, even though it does not include additional military spending. But Turner said Ryan pledged to add to military spending when the full budget is approved this year.

Turner said “we’re in the sad position of having to vote for another” temporary bill “which shortchanges our men and women in uniform.” However, he said Ryan has “a strong commitment for a two–year funding package for our military that is in the best interest of our military.”

Area Republicans Turner, Jim Jordan of Urbana and Warren Davidson of Troy all voted for the bill. Democrat Joyce Beatty of Columbus joined other Democrats in opposing the measure.

Until late Thursday, Ryan’s pledge was not enough to win the backing of the House’s most conservative Republicans, such as Jordan.

But President Donald Trump and Ryan finally convinced opposition Republicans to vote for the bill by promising to boost Defense spending by $80 billion and permit a floor vote on a conservative-backed immigration bill.

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If the government shuts down Friday night, the mail would get delivered, the post offices will remain open, the Army, Navy and Air Force operate with critical personnel reporting as usual, and Americans receive their Social Security checks. Medicare and Medicaid departments also continue to function.

Ohio in 2016 had 77,400 federal employees, of which 5,250 were on active duty with the Air Force. Air Force civilian employment was 13,838, almost all at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton

In the past, civilian workers were furloughed, although they were paid when the government re-opened. In the 2013 shutdown, 50 workers at the Defense Supply Center were furloughed.

Wright-Patterson is the largest single-site employer in Ohio with more than 27,000 employees — the vast majority of whom are civilians — and touts a regional economic impact greater than $4 billion.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, would close until a funding deal is reached, a spokesman has said.

The vote highlighted what has become a recurring drama in Washington, confirming once again voters’ fears that the federal government seems to lurch from one budgetary crisis to the next.

Both parties have used the threat of government closures as leverage to win passage of measures that have little or no impact on the budget. Both sides essentially are waiting for the other side to fold, which tends to increase the power of the far right and far left to prevent government from remaining open.

But with the stock market roaring and the economy expanding, there is intense pressure from Wall Street and U.S. companies on Washington to settle their differences without the chaos created by a partial government shutdown.

After a confusing presidential tweet created today doubts about whether the White House backed the bill, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said Trump “supports the continuing resolution introduced in the House.”

“Congress needs to do its job and provide full funding of our troops and military with a two year budget caps deal.” Shah said. “However, as the deal is negotiated, the president wants to ensure our military and national security are funded. He will not let it be held hostage by Democrats.”

Staff Writer Barrie Barber contributed to this report

House Republicans overcome differences, approve 4-week funding bill for Uncle Sam

Published: Thursday, January 18, 2018 @ 2:37 PM

After a full day of uncertainty, the House of Representatives on Thursday evening approved a plan to fund the federal government until February 16, sending the measure to the Senate, where the bill is likely to be derailed by strong opposition from Democrats and a few Republicans.

The final House vote was 228-196 in favor of the plan to fund the federal government to February 16, as Republicans made clear that if a shutdown occurs, it should be blamed on the Democrats.

“My friends on the other side are showing why the people, the American people, like root canals, head lice, colonoscopies more than Congress,” said Rep. Pete Olsen (R-TX).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Z3XnEdKh8Y&w=640&h=390]

Democrats fired right back, saying that Republicans were to blame for the legislative brouhaha over government funding, repeatedly saying the GOP is in charge of the House, Senate, and White House.

“You can do anything you want,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was even more pointed, arguing that an extra item in the funding bill to insure resources for children’s health coverage was “like a bowl of doggie doo with a cherry on top.”

For other Democrats, the calculus on this vote was simple – if there was no provision in the measure to deal with the DACA program and the future of illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” then they weren’t going to support it.

“No DACA,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). “I am a nay vote tonight.”

As the day went on, there was a distinctly higher volume of verbal barbs between the two parties, as President Donald Trump and GOP leaders took clear aim at Democrats in Congress, hoping to win the battle of public opinion on who would be responsible for any government shutdown.

Just a few hours before the House vote, a bloc of more conservative Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus had vowed to vote against the bill, frustrated with the process that has once again left Congress far behind on budget work for 2018.

“I mean it’s a broken system,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). “It baffles me and it perplexes me, because I come from the business world, that we don’t run our country better.”

“When will Republicans start limiting government?” asked Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who voted against the temporary funding plan.

The head of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), told reporters that he won assurances from GOP leaders for votes in coming weeks to hold votes on funding for the military, along with a vote on a GOP designed immigration bill.

But even if those bills were to be approved in the House, they would not have 60 votes to make it through the U.S. Senate, which could bring the Congress, the President, and the nation to the brink of the first government funding crisis since 2013.

In October of that year, Republicans in the Senate blocked action on funding bills to protest the Obama health law – but after 16 days, they gave in, and their effort fared badly in some polls, though it seemingly had no effect on the GOP in the next election.

In the Senate, Republicans were clearly preparing to blame Democrats for stopping the stopgap budget – known as a “CR” or “Continuing Resolution,” even though there may not even be a majority ready to vote for the funding plan.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLDE6H7MAHw&w=640&h=390]

Trump, GOP leaders take aim at Senate Democrats in government funding fight

Published: Thursday, January 18, 2018 @ 7:23 AM

The political finger pointing over government spending dramatically accelerated Thursday in Washington, a day before funding runs out for the federal government, as top Republicans joined with President Trump in an effort to blame Democrats for any government shutdown, accusing Democrats of trying to use talks over extra money for the military to win unrelated provisions on immigration.

In swift succession over a half hour period, the President, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader were all on television, pointing the finger straight at Democrats in the Senate.

“If the Senate Democrats want to shut the government down,” Speaker Paul Ryan said at a news conference, “then that would be their choice to make.”

Meanwhile, the President ventured across the Potomac River to the Pentagon, where he said a shutdown would not only harm the military, but Mr. Trump said it was also an effort by Democrats to take away economic momentum from recent tax cuts.

“Democrats would like to blunt that by shutting down government,” the President said, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P39J12HJ-uY&w=640&h=390]

At the same time on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was criticizing Democrats for trying to force Republicans to accept provisions dealing with immigration and the DACA program.

“Why would they filibuster government funding and shut down vital programs for Americans because we have not yet agreed on the best way to settle an unrelated issue?” McConnell said, making clear he was ready to take a hard line with the other party.

But even as Republicans showed a united front against Democrats on the shutdown, there were questions in GOP ranks about whether the House could pass a temporary funding measure, as a number of House Republicans said they were still ready to vote against that funding bill, not pleased with lack of action on spending by the Congress.

As for Democrats, they laughed at the idea that they were responsible for a possible shutdown, arguing that Republicans have the majority in the House and Senate, and control the White House as well.

“It’s a mess,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, who said the funding debacle was the result of the “incompetence of Republicans.”

Democratic votes would be needed for any budget extension, as 60 votes are required to get around any filibuster.

If no deal is worked out by Friday night at midnight, then some government services would start to close.

The last federal government shutdown was in October 2013. That lasted 16 days.