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.

Albuquerque mayor overrules condiment ban placed on free senior meals

Published: Saturday, July 22, 2017 @ 11:41 AM



tiburonstudios/Getty Images
(tiburonstudios/Getty Images)

Seniors who had been forbidden to season meals provided by the city can thank Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry for intervening in the "condiment wars."

Because the city's congregate meal program is funded through a grant, it is required to follow strict nutritional requirements. However, some seniors felt the requirements were draconian, because they banned all condiments unless they were served with the meal. That meant seniors couldn't use salt, pepper, ketchup or other condiments to season their food, even if they brought their own. The grant also forbid coffee being served with lunches.

>> Read more trending news

Conway Wood, 94, told the  Albuquerque Journal he got reprimanded for using a salt packet he brought from home to season his asparagus.

After reading the complaints from senior diners, the mayor decided to take action on what he said may have been "well-intentioned" guidelines that don't pass the "common sense test." He had city staff review the guidelines, and now the city will provide a variety of condiments, including salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard and salsa that will be available with all senior meals served by the city. Berry also ordered the program to lift the coffee ban.

The new guidelines go into effect immediately.

Sean Spicer resigns: A look at his 6 months as White House press secretary

Published: Friday, July 21, 2017 @ 3:37 PM
Updated: Friday, July 21, 2017 @ 4:08 PM

Sean Spicer Best Moments

White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday morning, six months and one day after he first started addressing reporters on behalf of President Donald Trump.

>> Read more trending news

Spicer was well-known for his often combative exchanges with journalists gathered for the daily White House press briefing. The briefings were considered must-see television, but in recent weeks they’ve moved to an audio-only format as Spicer took on a more behind-the-scenes role.

>> Related: Sean Spicer resigns, Sarah Huckabee Sanders named next White House press secretary

Here’s a look back at some of Spicer’s most well-known moments:

That time he misspoke and made up a terror attack in Atlanta:

Shortly after becoming press secretary, Spicer drew raised brows for referencing a terror attack in Atlanta in an effort to highlight the Trump administration’s need to act on Islamic terrorism.

>> Related: Sean Spicer says he 'clearly meant Orlando' after citing nonexistent Atlanta terror attack

“I don’t think you have to look any further than the families of the Boston Marathon, in Atlanta, in San Bernardino to ask if we can go further,” Spicer said in January. “There’s obviously steps that we can and should be taking, and I think the president is going to continue do to what he can to make sure that this country is as safe as possible."

Of course, no such terror attack has ever occurred in Atlanta. The city has seen attacks at least twice before, in 1958 and 1996. However, the terrorists in those cases were not Muslim.

Spicer later explained in an email to ABC News that he “clearly meant Orlando,” referencing the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.

That time he kind of explained Trump’s use of “covfefe”:

The president is well-known for speaking his mind on Twitter, even when his thoughts run contrary to statements made by his own administration. In an early morning tweet in May, Trump wrote that “despite the constant negative press covfefe.”

>> Related: Sean Spicer's simple response to Trump's 'covfefe' tweet

No, covfefe is not a word, and no, Trump never explained what he meant.

But Spicer didn’t see anything wrong with the message, which was described as “incoherent” and sparked mockery across social media.

“The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” Spicer claimed.

That time he tried to say Hitler never used chemical weapons:

Spicer, apparently forgetting the entire Holocaust, claimed at a news briefing in April that “someone as despicable as Hitler … didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

The comment came as he tried to highlight the horror of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of sarin gas on civilians. But Spicer’s comments drew quick rebukes on social media and from reporters in the room.

>> Related: Spicer comments on Hitler, chemical weapons become Twitter fodder 

He attempted to explain himself.

"(Hitler) was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing," he said. "He brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that."

As you can probably guess, people did not like Spicer calling concentration camps “Holocaust centers” either.

WATCH - Spicer "Even Hitler Didn't Use Chemical Weapons"

That time he tried to explain the ridiculousness of the Trump-Russia controversy with salad dressing:

Apparently frustrated over continued scrutiny amid investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, Spicer got short in March with April Ryan, a reporter for American Urban Radio Networks.

>> Related: Sean Spicer gets spicy with reporter April Ryan: 'Stop shaking your head' 

"If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection," Spicer said. He later demanded that Ryan stop shaking her head.

That time he accidentally wore his U.S. flag lapel pin upside-down:

>> Related: Sean Spicer spotted with upside down lapel pin at press briefing

That time he said President Donald Trump had the biggest inauguration audience ever:

Who can forget Spicer’s first news conference as press secretary, when he admonished reporters for comparing images of President Donald Trump’s inauguration to photos of President Barack Obama’s?

>> Related: 'Alternative facts' like differing weather reports, Sean Spicer claims

"Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall," Spicer said on Jan. 21 at a terse news conference. "That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe."

Multiple fact-checking groups subsequently rated Spicer's claim anywhere from unprovable to outright false. Politifact gave his claim a "Pants on Fire" rating, the category used by the group to single out what it determines to be the most flagrant lies.

Republican tax reform plan may be limited by GOP budget

Published: Saturday, July 22, 2017 @ 6:17 AM

Republican plans for tax reform could be less sweeping than originally envisioned by the White House and GOP leaders in Congress, as a provision in a House GOP budget blueprint would require any tax bill to be ‘budget neutral,’ which would force lawmakers to offset any tax cuts with revenue increases that could be difficult in some cases to gain approval.

Deep in the fine print of the budget resolution for next year, the Republican plan allows for a tax reform bill under budget reconciliation, “if such measure would not increase the deficit for the total of fiscal years 2018 through 2027.”

In other words, you can’t just cut taxes – which technically deprive the federal treasury of revenue, and therefore increase the budget deficit – you have to find revenue to pay for those tax cuts.

And Republicans on the House Budget Committee were actively trumpeting that message.

On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan was touting tax reform during a trip to a New Balance factory in Massachusetts.

“First and foremost, we’re going to cut your taxes,” the Speaker said.

But when a tax plan is deficit neutral – a cut for one person means that revenue must be found somewhere else to offset that reduction – in other words, some other tax increase, mainly one would assume by taking away deductions in the tax code.

And many veterans of Capitol Hill say that’s not going to be easy.

“I spent much of 2011-16 negotiating tax reform proposals in the Senate,” said Brian Reidl, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who used to work for Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

“Revenue-neutral tax reform will make health care look easy,” Riedl said in a post on Twitter.

Key Republicans have made clear that they want to put together a proposal that dramatically simplifies the current tax system.

“So 96% of the people can do their tax return on a single postcard size,” said House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Diane Black (R-TN).

To do that, you would lower tax rates, and then most likely eliminate or reduce tax deductions – and that’s where things get tricky.

Do you get rid of the deduction for mortgage insurance? Lots of people talk about that, but it always goes nowhere.

What about the deduction for state and local taxes? That has bipartisan opposition in and around big cities on the East Coast.

The tax break on employer provided health care benefits? That went nowhere fast in the negotiations over the GOP bill to overhaul the Obama health law.

End or restrict the business interest deduction? Hard to imagine.

Deficit neutral tax reform – it sounds wonky. But it’s a pretty important development that may rein in the scope of a GOP tax plan.

Spicer out, Sanders up, Scaramucci in, at White House

Published: Friday, July 21, 2017 @ 3:05 PM

The White House communications team underwent a major change on Friday, as Press Secretary Sean Spicer turned in his resignation, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was elevated to Spicer’s job, and Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci was brought in by President Donald Trump to be the new Communications Director, delivering a new tone in dealing with the press.

“The President is phenomenal with press,” said Scaramucci. “I love the President. The President is a very, very effective communicator.”

While Scaramucci – known by many insiders as “Mooch” – made clear that he thinks the news media does not treat the President fairly, Mr. Trump’s new Communications Director laid out that message in a totally different way in his first few minutes in the White House Briefing Room.

As for Spicer, he will be replaced at the podium by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who will move from Deputy to White House Press Secretary.

Spicer, who battle relentlessly with the press, and never seemed to have the full confidence of the President, will officially leave the White House in August.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve President Donald Trump and this amazing country,” Spicer wrote on Twitter. “I will continue my service through August.”

While there had been questions that Spicer wanted no part of working with Scaramucci, the next White House Communications Director went out of his way to praise Spicer.