The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Weighing Kavanaugh’s chances

Politics | Washington takes sides as the Senate confirmation battle looms
by Kyle Ziemnick
Posted 7/12/18, 04:34 pm

Brett Kavanaugh received more than a full minute of applause when President Donald Trump announced his decision Monday to nominate the U.S. circuit court judge to the Supreme Court. But the warm reception cooled quickly as Washington geared up for Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing and vote.

Congressional Democrats immediately launched into attack mode, taking aim at Kavanaugh’s record on multiple issues, especially abortion.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday that Kavanaugh’s nomination puts “women’s reproductive rights” at risk.

“I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have,” Schumer added. “The stakes are simply too high for anything less.”

Planned Parenthood railed against Kavanaugh, as well.

“The right to access abortion safely and legally in this country is clearly on the line,” said Dana Singiser, vice president for public policy and government relations for the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Some conservatives expressed disappointment in Kavanaugh’s nomination. National Review columnist David French wrote that because Trump didn’t nominate U.S. Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, he felt a “palpable sense of an opportunity lost.”

But Democrats’ reactions should tell conservatives a lot about where Kavanaugh stands. The instant visceral pushback means liberals fear Kavanaugh’s social positions. The website FiveThirtyEight predicted Kavanaugh would rank as the second-most conservative justice on the Supreme Court if he were confirmed, behind only Justice Clarence Thomas.

National pro-life organizations voiced their support for Kavanaugh. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, called him “an experienced, principled jurist with a strong record of protecting life and constitutional rights.”

And 40 Christian leaders signed a document urging the Senate to confirm Kavanaugh.

“We believe that the judicial philosophy of Judge Brett Kavanaugh … merits appointment as the next associate justice on the United States Supreme Court,” the document stated.

But that appointment faces a strong challenge in the Senate. Republicans hold a razor-thin 51-49 majority that could easily disappear with one or two defections. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the two Republicans most vulnerable to voting no. Collins and Murkowski both said they looked forward to meeting with Kavanaugh.

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota all voted for Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch in his Supreme Court confirmation last year. They each represent states that Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election, and they all have given no hint as to their eventual votes on his latest nominee.

Kavanaugh already passed one tough Senate confirmation test when he was named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by a vote of 57-36 vote in 2003. Now, the part-time coach of his daughters’ basketball teams moves on to the next round of the judicial playoffs, with far more at stake this time around.

Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais President Donald Trump talks to reporters at a news conference before leaving the NATO summit in Brussels Thursday.

Trump tells NATO to ante up

The leaders of NATO held an emergency session Thursday as U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to upend the alliance over what he perceives as European nations freeloading off U.S. military spending.

Trump claimed victory after the talks, stressing European commitments to bolster their own defense budgets but providing no details about any changes to existing agreements on spending. French President Emmanuel Macron later disputed that allies had agreed to change their defense spending.

“I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they did not up their commitments very substantially,” Trump said, adding he hoped to eventually get allies to increase their spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product. He told reporters that he still believes he can withdraw the United States from NATO, but that he thought such a move would be unnecessary.

Trump spent the two-day summit blasting allies, including going after Germany for a planned gas pipeline with Russia, declaring Berlin was “totally controlled by Russia” and prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to push back by pointing at her own experience as a youth in communist East Germany during the Cold War.

European allies have openly questioned the U.S. commitment to NATO and worried about Trump’s own dealings with Russia as he prepares to sit down with President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki.

Trump’s remarks continue a showdown with European allies after his refusal to sign on to a routine declaration following a G-7 summit in Canada last month amid ongoing disputes over tariffs and other trade issues.

His first visit to NATO last year left allies feeling uncertain after he removed a passage from a speech that would have explicitly reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend member states from attack (though he later did so), and some have expressed fear that his meeting with Putin directly following this week’s summit could cause him to weaken commitments to former East bloc nations in the alliance.

U.S. leaders have long urged the rest of the alliance to bolster its defense budget. Figures released by NATO ahead of the gathering show just four other members now spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, and several others fall just short.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Trump’s push for more defense spending while also underscoring the importance of the alliance to the United States.

“There is a new sense of urgency due to President Trump’s strong leadership on defense spending,” he said Thursday. “Today, all allies agreed to redouble their efforts. And this will make NATO stronger.”

Europeans weren’t the only ones stressing the importance of the alliance; Congress this week passed a nonbinding resolution, underscoring the U.S. role in NATO. —Anne K. Walters

Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik First lady Melania Trump arriving at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., on June 21, prior to her visit to McAllen, Texas

The ‘reluctant’ first lady

Melania Trump is traveling with her husband throughout Europe this week, and the press continues to focus on whether she’s holding hands with President Donald Trump or what her fashion choices convey.

During the recent debacle over the separation of illegal immigrant families at the U.S. southern border, reporters latched onto one particularly awkward first lady fashion statement: her jacket emblazoned with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” In the process, the media largely missed something she said later that day at a children’s shelter in McAllen, Texas.

“I’m here to learn about your facility,” she said, thanking shelter staff. “I also like to ask you how I can help … these children, to reunite with their families as quickly as possible.”

Discussion moved on, but the moment was telling: Was it just a polite comment at a children’s shelter, or did the first lady really desire personal involvement beyond a nice photo opportunity?

As a former supermodel and the eventual wife of a flamboyant businessman, Melania Trump has spent much time in the limelight, but she often appears uncomfortable in it. Political pundits have criticized her for choosing not to live at the White House initially, for using remarks that resembled former first lady Michelle Obama’s in key moments, and most recently for the bizarre jacket choice. But the most frequent observation about Trump’s tenure is that she “doesn’t want to be here.”

In a January op-ed published in The New York Times, Kate Andersen Brower, a CNN contributor and author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, called her “the most reluctant first lady since Bess Truman.”

Presidential historian Taylor Stoermer pointed out that active and involved first ladies are a relatively modern phenomenon. Maybe, Stoermer said, the current first lady is more like second-term Frances Cleveland than like Michelle Obama.

Early in America’s history, entire administrations passed without the media reporting much on the actions of the first ladies, who often didn’t relish their position. (Bess Truman was quoted as saying, “A woman’s place in public is to sit beside her husband, be silent, and be sure his hat is on straight.”)

Expectations for the role of first lady have climbed ever since Eleanor Roosevelt started her radical newspaper column, “My Day.” Many first ladies have had occupations of their own, but since Roosevelt, they’ve become progressively involved in policy—especially Hillary Clinton, a first lady of many “firsts”: the first elected to national office, the first to serve in a presidential Cabinet, and the first major party presidential nominee.

“Why make [Melania Trump] fit this relatively recent mold of what a first lady should be?” asked Stoermer. “Has it become that entrenched, that a first lady has to be these particular things? For most of our history, they’ve pretty much been left alone unless they really wanted it.” —Laura Finch

Kyle Ziemnick

Kyle is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

Read more from this writer

Comments

  • JerryM
    Posted: Sun, 07/15/2018 11:53 pm

    Good reporting.

ADVERTISEMENT