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In fight over Gorsuch, Senate leaders stand their ground

March 29, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
In Congress, the spotlight is back on the battle over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and the possibility of Republicans using the “nuclear option.” Meanwhile, there are questions about the independence of the chair of the House Intelligence Committee on the Russia probe. Judy Woodruff gets views from Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Karine Jean-Pierre of MoveOn.org.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Back on this side of the Atlantic, some of the political spotlight was on the battle over filling the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court

As Republicans push for a vote as soon as possible for President Trump’s appointee, Neil Gorsuch, and Democrats grow increasingly vocal in their opposition, the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate today stood their ground.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: So when we hear our Democratic colleagues talking about breaking longstanding precedent to oppose this noncontroversial, outstanding judge by mounting the first ever purely partisan filibuster to try to defeat his nomination, we can only assume one thing. This isn’t about the nominee at all.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: If Judge Gorsuch fails to earn 60 votes, and fails to demonstrate he is mainstream enough to sit on the highest court, we should change the nominee, not the rules. The Republicans are the ones making the choice to go nuclear.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on this and what is next after the failed Obamacare repeal and replace push, and the drama over the Russia connection investigation, we turn to Karine Jean-Pierre. She’s a senior adviser for MoveOn.org. And Matt Schlapp, he’s chair of the American Conservative Union.

And welcome back to both of you to the program.

Karine, I’m going to start with you.

You have listened to these senators. You know what’s going on in the background. What does it look like this Gorsuch nomination is headed towards?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MoveOn.org: I have to say, truer words couldn’t have been spoken by Mitch McConnell.

He’s absolutely right. We are in a — this country, our democracy is being certainly threatened, I should say, and we have a president who’s under investigation — well, his associates are under investigation. And until that is cleared up, we should figure out what’s going on and get to the bottom of it.

And we shouldn’t be allowing a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court justice. So, I totally agree. There is something — it’s not just about the nominee. It’s about where we are as a country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Matt — excuse me. I’m sorry to interrupt.

But, Matt, it sounds like Leader McConnell is not prepared to slow this thing down.

MATT SCHLAPP, The American Conservative Union: Not at all.

Neil Gorsuch is going to be on the Supreme Court. Everybody knows it. The question is, do they mount this filibuster and do the rules of the Senate have to be changed to get him on the court? I predict that they won’t have to change the rules to get him on the court. He will get over 50 votes, mostly because…

JUDY WOODRUFF: In other words, you’re saying Democrats, some Democrats will come on board?

MATT SCHLAPP: I think — or they won’t choose to mount a filibuster.

Remember, we don’t — modern times, they don’t use the filibuster against Supreme Court nominees. This is quite a precedent. Now, it plays into what Harry Reid did in not allowing the 60-vote threshold for nominees of President Barack Obama.

So, what’s happening in the Senate is it’s turning into something more like the House, where it just takes a majority vote to get — and, of course, the Senate only handles nominations, but just a majority vote to get people through.

And, quite frankly, as a conservative, I’m just fine with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it would be a much more partisan place if that happens, right?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Right.

Hey, I think, if Mitch McConnell brings Gorsuch to the floor, and he can’t get to 60 votes, hey, there is another nominee named Merrick Garland who waited — he waited 293 days.

(CROSSTALK)

MATT SCHLAPP: He did.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: But the Republicans didn’t have any problem with that.

This seat has been open for over a year. Why can we not wait to see where this investigation goes?

MATT SCHLAPP: I think because it has nothing to do with the investigation. It has to do with the fact that that opening, which was the swing seat, happened in relative proximity to the election.

And the Republicans made the case that we shouldn’t make that decision on that swing justice until the election was decided. The election was decided. And now Donald Trump has picked somebody who we have to all admit performed very well during the hearings. And even the Democrats I have talked to said it would have helped our cause a lot if he seemed to be less sure-footed.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: But here’s the thing. Merrick Garland was a consensus candidate that Republicans should have been …

(CROSSTALK)

MATT SCHLAPP: So is Neil Gorsuch, though.

(CROSSTALK)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: No, he’s not. He never even answered questions about how he voted when it came to women’s rights, when it came to LGBT rights.

He actually didn’t even answer those questions.

MATT SCHLAPP: He said that he — his opinions didn’t matter. What mattered is the black letter of the law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re not going to resolve this in this week. We may try at it — we may go at it again.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, the Intelligence Committee, Matt, chairman of House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, a lot of controversy, questions about whether he can be a credible leader for that investigation.

Where do you see that going? Today, he and other Republicans in the House and even Republicans in the Senate are saying this is going to stay as it is.

MATT SCHLAPP: My hat’s off to Democrats. I think they’re doing a good job of trying to make it about Devin Nunes and about the judgments he’s made as chairman.

I have talked to the chairman and his team over the course of the last days and weeks. And the information that he believes that he’s uncovered doesn’t have — doesn’t relate to Russia. The reason why he went to the White House doesn’t relate to Russia.

But it does relate to the fact that he’s got more witnesses who have come forward to say that, during the ending days of the Obama administration or ending weeks and months, that there was more surveillance that captured even more conversations of team Trump.

This is all going to come out. We’re going to see it publicly. And the American people are going to be faced with this question about, is this surveillance power that a president has, is it too broad?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, this sounds like, Karine, something that’s just going to get bigger.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, it definitely seems like it’s just going to get bigger.

Look, we — from — historically, both the House and the Senate, when it comes to the Intelligence Committee, it behaves above board, outside of politics, which is the beauty of these two committees.

But we haven’t seen that from this chair. He continuously does things that’s troubling. And I’m not just saying this as a progressive. You had Senator McCain say, hey, his behavior last week was troubling, that you cannot trust what’s going on. They have lost their credibility, the House Intel Committee.

I mean, that …

(CROSSTALK)

MATT SCHLAPP: Good old Senator McCain, you can always count on him to criticize his own team. He’s pretty good at that, I have to say.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, he’s pretty credible as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, two other things I want to quickly ask you both. It’s a lot, I know, to cram in.

But, Karine, health care, the attempt to repeal and replace, didn’t come up for a vote. Republicans seem to have regrouped. Do you think Democrats are prepared to work with the president on this? What do you see?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I can’t imagine that’s going to happen. And I will tell you why.

What they put forth 20 days ago now was very draconian. It was pretty unbelievable that they had seven years, and this is what they came up with, which is a bill that took health care away from tens of millions of people, raised costs for the most vulnerable, including seniors.

And so I can’t imagine that what — what are they were going to come up with? Why should we trust them, when they had years to put something forth that would be appeasing, or why not just work with the Democrats and say, hey, we know that Obamacare needs fixing, let’s work with you guys?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you see it going?

MATT SCHLAPP: I think you make a lot of good points there. We did run around the country for six or seven years and said Obamacare was an abomination and we have a replacement.

But we look bad when the first attempt to have a repeal and replace, we stumbled and couldn’t get the votes. And I don’t even think they were that close to getting the votes.

Look, I think, when you have a mandate in Obamacare says you must get health insurance, and then when you take the mandate away, there is no question there will be people — it’s called freedom — who will choose — as a young man, I didn’t get health insurance. People have a right to make that choice.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Matt, do you think the Republicans will try again?

MATT SCHLAPP: I do.

I think the White House is already working to try to get something done. They realize, Judy, we cannot credibly go back to the voters next November without having a real vigorous replacement of Obamacare.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In less than 30 seconds, the announcement by the president’s daughter, Matt and Karine, that she will be an unpaid federal government employee with an office in the White House.

MATT SCHLAPP: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We now have the president’s daughter and son-in-law with offices in the West Wing. Unusual. What should we …

MATT SCHLAPP: It’s unusual. Let’s all be honest. It’s unconventional.

But here’s what I have learned in working for a president. Presidents will seek out the advice that they feel like they need to make the tough calls. And I think it’s clear, with President Trump, his family is very important to him as he determines positions on issues.

And I think it’s very candid that he wants her near him to talk about these things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I think it plays into the story of nepotism. And what are the ethics around all of this?

And it’s troubling. I think it’s incredibly troubling. And it is going to be problematic.

MATT SCHLAPP: Her lawyer is a Democrat, Jamie Gorelick. And there’s no legal question. But there is a question about the politics of it.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I understand that. But I understand that.

Well, the optics are certainly bad. But the only reason we heard an announcement of what her position is going to be is because they were responding to watchdogs, saying, hey, this doesn’t look good.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now she says she will be a formal government employee, subject to ethics rules. All these …

MATT SCHLAPP: And she’s a Democrat. For all those Democrats who were complaining, you might like the fact that she’s in there.

(LAUGHTER)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think she’s an enabler.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you both, Karine Jean-Pierre, Matt Schlapp.

MATT SCHLAPP: Thank you.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, Judy.

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