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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says women's basic reproductive freedoms are at risk as President Trump prepares to name a new justice. Judy Woodruff talks with the New York Democrat about the brewing political battle, why she says Senate Leader Mitch McConnell should wait until after the midterm elections to hold confirmation hearings, plus a standstill on sexual harassment bills in Congress.
And Justice Kennedy's vacancy on the court means a brewing political battle to fill his seat on Capitol Hill.
And for more on the fight to come, I spoke this evening with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She's a Democrat from New York.
And I started by asking what it means if the president nominates a strong conservative to the bench.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.:
What the president's promised is, he is going to appoint someone who will overturn, absolutely overturn Roe v. Wade, which basically means women's basic reproductive freedoms are at risk, women's human rights, our civil rights, our ability to decide what medical treatments they want.
And I'm telling you they are going to criminalize women's access to abortion services. They're going to criminalize women's reproductive choices.
And I think every American should stand up, speak out, fight against this. And I don't think we should allow a vote before the election. I think we should apply the same standard Mitch McConnell applied to President Obama.
Well, two points here.
The person the president appoints will be one of nine members of the court. The chief justice said, when he was first nominated — and I'm quoting — he said, "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land." He said, "There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying the precedent."
It sounds like there is not a sentiment to overturn it.
I don't agree with that, Judy.
I got to say, President Trump ran on the notion that, I'm going to overturn Roe v. Wade.
He created a list of 25 potential appointees. And he said, I will appoint someone from that list. He believes that list include only people who will overturn Roe v. Wade.
And so America's women need to speak out and stand up, because this is a moment where we are ultimately going to be faced with the fact that women will be denied their basic civil rights and civil liberties to make their own decisions about their own bodies.
We will be moving backwards 40 years of jurisprudence, moving absolutely backwards, and harming families and harming women.
Well, you also mentioned the fact that Majority Leader McConnell has said he wants to move quickly. The president wants to move quickly.
You're asking — you and other Democrats are saying, move this until after the election. But, as you know, they're saying this is not a presidential election year, it's very different, it's midterm elections, and there's a precedent for choosing other Supreme Court justices in midterm election years.
That's not what Senator McConnell said then, and it's not what his Republican colleagues.
They said things like, we're going to overturn the Senate. We could have a different body of senators. These new senators should decide. The people of America should be able to have a say.
The people of America should be able to have a say. And I believe the women of America have to have an opportunity to stand up and speak out and to make sure their views are heard on Election Day.
I think this nomination should be left to next year. And I think that every person in America should let their congressmember know, their senators know how they feel about women's choices about their own health.
It is something that is so dangerous and harmful. They want to punish women. President Trump said it himself. They want to punish women for their reproductive choices.
Well, just quickly, Senator McConnell is pointing now to confirmations in the Senate of the nominee Justice Kagan. He points out she was a — she went through confirmation in 2010, Justice Breyer in 1994, that these were all midterm election years.
And this is his rule, not our rule. He's the one who denied a justice nominee from President Obama. And I do not believe that he should be given the benefit of getting a justice before this election.
And so I think we should stand strong, we should stand tall, and people across America should be heard on this issue, because make no mistake. This president intends to rewrite the law and to turn back history, over 40 decades (sic) of jurisprudence, to undermine women's rights, and to harm women, to punish women.
We know, Senator Gillibrand, that conservative organizations are gearing up to support whoever the president nominates, assuming they like the choice.
Concerned Women for America, among others, they're saying — quote — "Our happy warrior activist ladies relish the fight and shine in these historic moments."
Are you and other Democrats prepared for this fight?
We are. And I'm prepared to fight it. And I know a lot of women around this country who are prepared to fight it.
They have been marching since President Trump was inaugurated. They are raising their voices. They are running for office. They're turning out to vote. And so women are mobilized. And I believe their voices will be heard on this.
Let me come back to the numbers.
You know the Republicans only need 51 votes to get this nominee through. How concerned are you that some Democrats who represent so-called red states, states where the president is very popular, may be tempted to vote for the president's nominee?
I believe the American people aren't going to tolerate the next nominee if he's a Gorsuch-style nominee who is anti-choice, anti-women's right, anti-gay rights, anti-clean air, anti-clean water, pro-corporation over employees in all cases.
I think the American people will speak out. And they will speak out in all 50 states, red states, blue states, and purple states. And I believe that, if members of Congress, particularly the senators, are listening to their voters, I don't think they could vote for a nominee like that easily.
And so I hope the American people stand tall and speak out and are heard on this very issue.
Senator, finally, a different subject.
This I about something that was a big issue just a few months ago, legislation to address sexual harassment among members of Congress. Both the House and the Senate have now passed legislation, but it's different.
And, right now, the House is saying that the Senate is the holdup in terms of moving forward to find a compromise. What's going on?
The holdup is Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who will not let these two bills be conferenced.
You have two bills that have passed both chambers unanimously that are 90 percent the same. So, why we are not moving that legislation to conference is outrageous and absurd.
And I hope more people will not only raise this issue, but speak out about it, because if you work in Congress today, if you're a young man or young woman, and you are harassed by your boss, you have to wait for a month to have mandatory mediation, followed by up to a month of mandatory counseling, followed by a month of mandatory cooling off.
And then you can report. And if there is a settlement, the taxpayer is left holding the bag.
Our bills, both sides', eliminate the three-month waiting, eliminate the taxpayer-funded payout, and make sure that you post these rules, so that everybody know what they are, and have a mandatory survey for all House and Senate employees every two years, so you know what the climate is like here.
So, those are the four pillars of both bills. Let's just pass that right now, move it to conference. And the question should be, why are the Republican leadership in the House and Senate not letting this bill go to conference?
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, thank you very much.
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