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Happy Monday morning.
President Joe Biden heads to Europe on Wednesday to meet with NATO, the European Council and the G-7 as world leaders grapple with the growing crisis in Ukraine.
The White House announced late Sunday night that Biden was adding a trip to Poland to the itinerary. Biden will travel to Warsaw on Friday. On Saturday, Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss “the humanitarian and human rights crisis that Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war on Ukraine has created.”
Biden will also host a call this morning with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
This, of course, is an enormously important trip for Biden, NATO, U.S.-Russian relations and possibly Ukraine’s future. We’ll have a lot more on this as the week unfolds.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is in session and the House is out.
The SCOTUS schedule: The Senate’s focus this week will be Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet Monday through Thursday to consider Jackson’s nomination. Jackson is the first Black woman tapped for a seat on the high court. She’s also aiming to be the first Democratic nominee to actually be confirmed to the Supreme Court since Elena Kagan in 2010. Yes, it’s been that long a drought for Democrats.
Today is just the opening round of the hearings. The Judiciary Committee kicks things off at 11 a.m. Each of the 22 members of the Judiciary Committee get 10 minutes to talk about Jackson’s nomination. Then the pair formally introducing Jackson to the panel – retired Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith and Prof. Lisa Fairfax of the University of Pennsylvania – will speak for up to five minutes each. This will be followed by a 10-minute opening statement from Jackson herself.
There won’t be any questioning of Jackson today; that begins tomorrow and will last into Wednesday. On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee will hear from the American Bar Association – which unanimously gave Jackson its highest rating, “well qualified,” to serve on the Supreme Court – and other outside witnesses.
The stakes: Jackson is the first Black woman to be nominated for the Supreme Court, so the historic nature of her confirmation process is enormous. Yet in some ways, this is the least contentious nomination fight in a long time given that it won’t shift the ideological balance of the court. Conservatives currently enjoy a 6-3 advantage, and Jackson replacing Breyer won’t change that ratio. This a liberal taking over for a liberal.
Yet every Supreme Court nomination is important in and of itself. Jackson would only be the 116th justice ever to serve if confirmed. More importantly, Jackson – who got both her undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard – is only 51. Like her predecessor, Jackson could be on the Supreme Court for decades to come.
And the Jackon nomination is being conducted by a 50-50 Senate controlled by Democrats. There is literally no room for error here. So far, Jackson has made zero news, and there have been few controversies. Jackson’s meetings with senators went off without a hitch, and there’s been nothing new uncovered about her background. This is exactly what the White House, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin want – boring, drama-free proceedings that result in Jackson being seated on the Supreme Court in a matter of weeks.
Sunday’s news that Justice Clarence Thomas was hospitalized with an infection – and not Covid-19 – is another stark reminder of just how important the KBJ nomination could turn out to be. Thomas, who was hospitalized on Friday, is expected to be fine, although he will miss oral arguments today at a minimum.
There are some other interesting dynamics at play.
→ We’ll get a better look at the GOP line of attack against Jackson. So far, most of the criticism has centered around suggestions that Jackson is “soft on crime” and criminals, including sexual predators. This was pushed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Twitter the other day.
The White House and Senate Democrats have pushed back hard on these Republican claims. During an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Durbin noted that Jackson has already been confirmed by the Senate three times, each time undergoing a review by the Judiciary Committee as well.
“Judge Jackson has been scrutinized more than any person I can think of. This is her fourth time before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and three previous times, she came through with flying colors and bipartisan support.”
Durbin also lashed out at Hawley, saying he was “the man who was fist-bumping the murderous mob that descended on the Capitol on January 6 of last year.”
According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, “attempts to smear or discredit her history and her work are not borne out in facts.”
But GOP senators will also go after Jackson’s record as a public defender, her representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees and her tenure on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which works to “reduce sentencing disparities and promote transparency and proportionality in sentencing.” Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee – who also happens to be up for reelection in November – complained that the Judiciary Committee won’t have the sentencing commission’s full records by the time the hearings start.
→ The universe of potential GOP votes for Jackson is small. As our friends Manu Raju and Alex Rogers of CNN noted here, Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 “was the first justice to be confirmed without bipartisan support since Reconstruction.”
We don’t expect that to happen to Jackson, but GOP “yes” votes may be hard to find. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who backed Jackson for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year, is definitely in play. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also backed KBJ’s appeals court nomination, are tougher to predict. Graham wanted another candidate, J. Michelle Childs, to be selected and hasn’t said how he’s voting. His face-to-face session with Jackson was a brisk 20 minutes. Murkowski is in the middle of an election cycle facing a GOP challenger backed by former President Donald Trump, so it may be very tough for her to back Jackson again.
A possible “yes” vote could come from one of the retiring GOP senators, although none of them is signaling openly that they may vote for Jackson at this time.
So this may very well end up a 51-49 vote for Jackson – if Collins votes yes. Democrats will take it, although President Joe Biden would definitely love to have more Republican votes.
→ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments on Jackson have also been somewhat harsh, although the Kentucky Republican says he hasn’t made up his mind on her nomination just yet (We’re gonna stick him in the “no” column anyway ‘mkay.)
Here’s McConnell on the Senate floor the other day:
“Her supporters look at her resume and deduce a special empathy for criminals. I guess that means that government prosecutors and innocent crime victims start each trial at a disadvantage.”
McConnell’s repeated use of the word “empathy” here intrigued us, especially since the Kentucky Republican is always precise in his wording. The “empathy” issue was raised by McConnell with another Democratic nominee – Sonia Sotomayor in 2009.
And the way the Jackson nomination has unfolded so far is somewhat reminiscent of the Sotomator confirmation fight too. Once former President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor, Republicans moved carefully. Sotomayor was the first woman of color and first Hispanic selected for the high court. She was nominated in spring 2009, after Republicans were crushed in the 2008 elections, especially with minority voters. It wasn’t until shortly before her confirmation hearing that Republicans really criticized Sotomayor.
“Empathy,” as Obama discussed it in the lead-up to picking Sotomayor, isn’t a quality McConnell favors as a guidepost for judges. McConnell made that very clear in a July 20, 2009, floor speech laying out his opposition to Sotomayor:
“But the primary reason I will not support this nomination, as I have already said, is because I cannot support the so-called ‘empathy standard’ upon which Judge Sotomayor was selected and to which she, herself, has subscribed in her writings and rulings.
As I have said, the empathy standard is a very fine quality. And I have no doubt that Senator Obama, now President Obama, had very good intentions when he made the case for a so-called empathy standard as a senator, a candidate, and now as president. But when it comes to judging – when it comes to judging – empathy is only good if you are lucky enough to be the person or group for whom the judge in question has empathy. In those cases, it is the judge, not the law, which determines the outcome.”
It’s worth noting that Sotomayor very clearly rejected empathy as one of her criteria for judicial rulings during her appearance before the Judiciary Committee. Obama also made no mention of it again when he nominated now Justice Elena Kagan in 2010.
→ NYT: “On Eve of Confirmation Hearings, G.O.P. Steps Up Attacks on Jackson,” by Carl Hulse
→ CNN: “How Ketanji Brown Jackson is preparing for questions about her record on crime,” by Ariane de Vogue
→ LA Times: “Jackson supporters gear up to protect her historic Supreme Court bid from racist, sexist attacks,” by Nolan McCaskill
→ Politico: “The Senate’s Supreme Court peacekeeper prepares for his moment,” by Marianne LeVine and Burgess Everett
→ WSJ: “Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Hearings to Focus on Legal Experience, Record on Crime,” by Ken Thomas and Siobhan Hughes
And … in other news
→ There has been no announcement yet on official tributes by the House for the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), whose death on Friday shocked members and party leaders. Young, 88, was the dean of the House, having served in Congress since 1973. We’ll keep you filled in on the latest developments here.
→ The Senate may end up reaching a deal this week on several Russia sanctions related issues, including a ban on Russian oil imports.
The House approved legislation last week rescinding preferred trading status for Russia and Belarus. It included language on the Global Magnitsky Act, which calls for sanctions on human rights violators. The House has already approved a separate bill banning Russian oil imports.
Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has been pushing his own legislation on the Russia oil ban and trading status, but it didn’t include the Magnitsky provisions. Republicans say Crapo’s bill is based on the existing bipartisan agreement between chairs and ranking members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees and actually goes further than the House-passed bill.
A Senate aide said there will be discussions between Crapo, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on all this. President Joe Biden has already issued an order banning Russian oil imports, but the White House has been looking to avoid enacting new legislation on the matter. That will give Biden flexibility on the issue in case there are new developments in the Ukraine crisis. But there may be too much momentum on Capitol Hill to prevent a Russian oil import ban bill from being approved by both chambers.
The Senate will vote today on a motion to invoke cloture on the America COMPETES Act, a major high-tech bill that could include big new investments in U.S. semiconductor chip manufacturing. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hopes to begin a House-Senate conference on that legislation before the Senate finishes this work period in early April.
Last week, we announced two exciting events happening in a few weeks. Join us in-person or virtually for both of them. They’re conversations you won’t want to miss!
→ Thursday, March 31: We’re sitting down with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his first public interview in more than two years. We’ll talk about the economy, the politics of legislating and the 2022 elections. RSVP.
→ Friday, April 8: Punchbowl News is hitting the road! Join us in Detroit or on the live stream virtually for our conversation with Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) about the challenges facing small business owners coming out of the pandemic in our first of four events in The Road to Recovery Series. RSVP.
Who we’re watching
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin. This will be Durbin’s first Supreme Court confirmation as chair of the panel. While the results aren’t in doubt if Democrats stick together, the process itself is very important. Republicans want an open, free-wheeling debate over Ketanji Brown Jackson’s qualifications. Durbin, the veteran Illinois Democrat, wants everything to go smoothly and there to be no surprises. We’ll see who comes out on top by the end of the week.
GOP Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) are all on the Judiciary Committee, and they’re all considered possible Republican presidential hopefuls in 2024. That means they’ll use this week’s confirmation hearings to try to garner national attention. Hawley has already gotten some headlines for suggesting that KBJ has a pattern “of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes,” which angered Senate Democrats and the White House. We’ll see what, if anything, Cruz and Cotton do in comparison.
What we’re watching
→ Monday: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings will kick off at 11 a.m.
→ Tuesday: The second part of the KBJ confirmation hearings starts at 9 a.m. Senate HELP will hold a hearing on lowering the cost of preschool and child care. The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on shoring up the supply chain.
→ Wednesday: Day Three of KBJ’s confirmation hearings begins at 9 a.m. Senate EPW will hold a hearing on investing in climate solutions. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on “next generation technology for innovation,” featuring the CEOs of Micron and Intel. The Senate Aging Committee will hold a hearing on home-based services.
→ Thursday: Day Four of KBJ’s confirmation hearing kicks off at 9 a.m. Senate Armed Services will have Gen. Laura Richardson, the commander of Southern Command, and Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, in an open hearing.
→ AARP is running an ad criticizing New York’s management of nursing home facilities. The spot says that nursing homes were mismanaged before Covid-19. Remember, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo got in trouble because of the undercounting of nursing home deaths. The spot – courtesy of AdImpact – is running in the New York media market.
9:30 a.m.: President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing.
11:00 a.m.: Biden will host a call with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Russia’s continued assault on Ukraine.
1:00 p.m.: The House is on recess but will meet for a pro forma session.
2:30 p.m.: Jen Psaki will brief.
6:00 p.m.: Biden joins a Business Roundtable quarterly meeting.
→ “Ukraine Rejects Demand to Surrender Mariupol,” by Andrew E. Kramer and Marc Santora
→ “Ashley Biden’s Diary Was Shown at Trump Fund-Raiser. Weeks Later, Project Veritas Called Her,” by Michael S. Schmidt and Adam Goldman
→ “Ukrainian refugees are flooding into Warsaw. Its mayor warns it’s on the brink,” by Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff
→ “How Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 is shaping Biden’s actions today,” by Ashley Parker and Ellen Nakashima
→ “EU Set to Line Up With Biden to Warn China Against Helping Putin,” by Jenny Leonard and Alberto Nardelli
→ “Russia’s Assault on Ukraine Uproots 10 Million People,” by Alan Cullison , Isabel Coles and Matthew Luxmoore
→ “Russia, Failing to Achieve Early Victory in Ukraine, Is Seen Shifting to ‘Plan B,’” by Michael R. Gordon and Alex Leary
→ “Ukraine rejects Russian demand for surrender in Mariupol,” by Cara Anna
→ “Pence distances himself from Trump as he eyes 2024 campaign,” by Jill Colvin
Crucial Capitol Hill news AM, Midday, and PM—5 times a week
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