Review Category : Politics

Congressional Black Caucus says meeting with Trump was a ‘positive first start’

Jim Watson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Members of the Congressional Black Caucus went to the White House on Wednesday for their first official meeting with President Donald Trump.

The meeting, which comes five weeks after Trump asked a reporter at a press conference to help set up a discussion with the group, was organized primarily to discuss Trump’s new budget proposal,
which Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, said at a press conference this afternoon would be “devastating” for the African-American community.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, said that the group raised “several areas of concern” but added that it was a “positive first start.”

According to Bass, among the concerns raised were Trump’s campaign rhetoric depicting African-American communities as “completely lawless,” his proposed budget cuts, mass incarceration and the
“rolling back” of the Voting Rights Act.

Richmond said Trump seemed “willing to have further engagement on a consistent basis,” and that when the group and the president discussed their goals, there were more similarities than
differences.

Richmond added that the caucus members aligned with Trump on the need for infrastructure improvements and for inner-city neighborhoods to be “as safe as possible,” as well as that Historically
Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are an important priority for funding.

However, Richmond also said they differed on their opinions of how to achieve their shared goals.

“His path as described was more on the lines of law and order; we offered one more of opportunity and summer jobs,” Richmond said.

Richmond noted that the president was receptive to their suggestions, “many of which I think he had not heard before.”

“I don’t think it was terse at any time,” Richmond said. “I think that both sides are very passionate about how to get to the goals but we were very firm in terms of our experiences and how we see
the result.”

Richmond said that two points of disagreement raised by Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, were the importance of community policing and of Muslim Americans who “serve as our eyes and our ears and speak up.”

“That was not an area of agreement coming in but it was something that had to be said from our standpoint because those are the things that we believe in,” Richmond said.

Trump has, at times, been criticized for his attitude toward the African-American community, including for his long-running claim that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya as well as for
his more recent clash with civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.

When asked about allegations that Trump has expressed racist viewpoints, Richmond said, “You’ll have to ask the people that made those allegations” but added that the caucus discussed with the
president his “divisive rhetoric” and how it might be harmful to African-American communities.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, said they made a point to tell the president that “a lot of the policies he’s proposing will not only have an impact on African-Americans but a greater impact for
those that voted for him,” particularly those that are suffering from economic insecurity.

Richmond emphasized that they’ll keep the lines of communication open: “We’re not called ‘the conscience of the Congress’ for nothing. … It’s because we have the will to fight and follow our
conscience.”

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House conservatives threaten GOP health care bill

DenKuvaiev/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Members of the House Freedom Caucus, after years of frustrating GOP leaders’ plans with a Democrat in the White House, are prepared to do the same under President Donald Trump.

Emerging from a closed-door meeting Wednesday after a trip to the White House, some conservatives declared they remained opposed to the GOP health care plan heading to the House floor on Thursday,
threatening to hand Trump a stinging defeat on his first major legislative push.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who joined Wednesday’s huddle over pizza and Coca-Cola, called on leadership to delay the vote.

“They don’t have the votes,” he said as he left the meeting.

At least 25 members of the caucus, which doesn’t publicize its membership, are prepared to vote against the American Health Care Act, according to a spokeswoman.

Republicans can only afford to lose 21 Republicans and still pass the bill. In addition to members of the Freedom Caucus, a number of moderates have announced opposition to the proposal.

The White House has made a number of tweaks to the original legislation in an effort to corral votes, including changes to Medicaid funding, an optional work requirement for Medicaid and
instructions for the Senate to construct a $75 billion fund that would provide additional tax credits to help people buy insurance.

But the moves aren’t enough for some conservatives, who are pushing for additional repeal items, such as the elimination of essential health benefits, they believe would help lower premiums. The
White House and Republican leaders are wary of violating Senate budgetary procedures, which could hold up the legislation in the upper chamber after a vote in the House.

On Tuesday, President Trump traveled to Capitol Hill to sell Republicans on the deal in person, telling the conference they’d be “fools” to oppose the legislation and that doing so could cost
Republicans their House majority in 2018.

But some conservatives dismissed the warning from Trump, who is known to keep track of his detractors and opponents.

“The only people I answer to are the people back in my district,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, who says he plans to vote against the bill.

Trump — dubbed “The Closer” by House Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, at the White House today — has successfully pushed some Republicans to support the bill.

Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, both came out for the bill after meeting with the president at the White House on Wednesday, according to a House GOP leadership aide. Others,
such as Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Lou Barletta, R-Pennsylvania, have also backed the bill after individual meetings with Trump in the Oval Office.

“I knew if I held out long enough … they’d send in the big guy to close the deal,” Barletta told ABC News’ Mary Bruce in an interview on Wednesday.

But others haven’t been as easily persuaded, including Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tennessee, a member of the House Freedom Caucus who recently traveled on Air Force One with Trump.

“We still haven’t seen the movement we want to make the premiums affordable for everyone,” he said today. “We’re still negotiating.”

Republican leaders are still planning to bring the bill to the floor Thursday, according to House GOP leadership aides.

“I don’t think they’ll pull the bill. I think we have a vote tomorrow, and it will either be voted up or down,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, said.

As Meadows spoke to reporters Wednesday afternoon, he was interrupted by McHenry and Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, who joked with him about announcing his support for the bill.

“We’re still negotiating, we’re all trying to get to ‘Yes,'” Meadows said.

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House intel chair says Trump transition team ‘incidentally’ surveilled, president feels ‘somewhat’ vindicated

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Donald Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated on Wednesday after being briefed by the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, R-Calif. — who said he had been
given credible intelligence suggesting that the personal communications of members of Trump’s transition team and possibly even the president himself had been caught up in foreign intelligence
surveillance after the election.

“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons
associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” Nunes, who worked on
Trump’s transition team executive committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill today.

“Third I have confirmed additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked.”

Nunes, who briefed the president after talking to the press, stressed that the communications picked up had “nothing to do with Russia” and were shared with him “legally.” He also said that he
believed that the surveillance was conducted legally using a FISA warrant and that the information gathered had foreign intelligence value, meaning that the agencies would have been justified in
collecting it.

“Bluntly put, everything I was able to view did not involve Russia or any discussions with Russia,” Nunes said. He would not say which country or countries were involved and has asked the National
Security Agency for more information.

Nunes’ announcement was blasted by the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who said he was not made aware of the information.

“If the chairman is going to continue to go to the White House rather than his own committee, there’s no way we can conduct this investigation,” Schiff said. “All of us are in the dark and that
makes what the chairman did today all the more extraordinary.”

Congressman Schiff also said that Trump should not feel vindicated and that Trump’s claim in those tweets that he was being wiretapped by his predecessor remain false. “There is still no evidence
that the president was wiretapped by his predecessor,” Schiff said.

President Trump’s claims that he was remain as baseless today as they were yesterday and the day before when the directors of the FBI and NSA testified that they were made without any basis in
fact.”

Asked if he felt “vindicated by Chairman Nunes” Trump said: “I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. But I somewhat do.”

FBI Director James Comey said Monday that no individual could order direct surveillance and that his agency had no information that supported Trump’s allegations against Obama. It was not clear
exactly what Trump was referring to.

The announcement came amid swirling questions about Russia meddling in the 2016 election and in the wake of the FBI announcing it was investigating potential links between Trump associates and
Russian officials, allegations the president has called “fake news.”

Republican lawmakers, as well as the administration, have placed a premium on finding out whether U.S. nationals were “unmasked,” or had their identities revealed to officials during the
intelligence gathering process. They also have been pushing to find out who was responsible for leaking classified information to the press.

Democrats have focused on whether there was potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russians.

Nunes also said the intelligence came specifically from November, December and January during the transition phrase, but that it was possible communications were gathered before the election or
after.

Asked point-blank if he thought the president-elect had been “spied on,” he would not directly answer.

“I guess it all depends on one’s definitions of spying, Nunes said. “I mean clearly it bothers me enough, I’m not comfortable with it, and i want to make sure the White House understands it.”

In the wake of a firestorm generated by the president tweeting that former President Barack Obama had his “wires tapped” at Trump Tower, Nunes maintained that while a physical tap of the building
had been ruled out, Trump’s team may have been surveilled in other ways, a position also proffered by the White House.

“The House Intelligence Committee will thoroughly investigate surveillance, and its subsequent dissemination to determine a few things here: who was aware of it; why it was not disclosed to
Congress; who requested and authorized the additional unmasking; whether anyone directed the intelligence community to focused on Trump associates and whether any laws, regulations or procedures
were violated,” he said.

Nunes said the intelligence he was looking at was so “alarming” to him that he wanted to let the press know.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked numerous questions about the information Nunes shared.

“I literally heard the statement, came out and briefed,” Spicer explained.

Despite saying he didn’t want to get ahead of Nunes’ briefing, Spicer called the findings “a startling revelation” and “raises serious questions.”

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ANALYSIS: Trump’s deal-making reputation at stake in health care push

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Trump has put it all on the line for Thursday’s health care vote.

His position has gone beyond offering support for legislation offered by GOP House leaders. The measure has his stamp of approval, and the full force of his deal-making energy, given the public and
private pressure he appears to be exerting.

It’s a high-risk, high-reward venture for the author of “The Art of the Deal.” The president even turned to threats — even if in jest — to get his caucus on board, telling House Republicans not
to be “fools” and suggesting their seats could be at risk in 2018.

At a 40-minute meeting with all House GOP members, he even joked about whether he would have to “come after” Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., if he continues to oppose the
legislation.

President Trump sees the vote tomorrow as a defining moment for the party and his still-young presidency, but its fate is far from certain. Currently, ABC News counts at least 25 House members that
are no votes, more than enough to sink the bill.

At least officially, there is no backup plan.

“There is no Plan B,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday. “There is Plan A and Plan A.”

If the president is successful, he will have done something House Republicans looked like they could not do on their own. They will have a united conference delivering on the biggest promise not
only of the last campaign, but that the GOP has offered over the last seven years.

If he fails, the consequences could be devastating to the Trump agenda. There would be the unfulfilled promise of “repeal and replace” for Obamacare, and diminished chances of legislative
achievements on tax reform and infrastructure investments, just for starters.

A win in the House won’t guarantee anything, either. Next will come Senate Republicans, where a handful of conservatives and moderates seem even more dug in against Trumpcare, or Ryancare, or
whatever name this legislation will be remembered as.

So how does the president get both chambers on board? It will take more than typical political deal-making. Some conservative senators have even been studying up on how to negotiate with the
businessman-turned-president, reading his books so they know exactly how he negotiates.

As with anything surrounding this White House, there are distractions. Recent days have brought FBI Director James Comey’s bombshells, potential Russia connections to his onetime campaign
associates, a Supreme Court confirmation process in the Senate, and now a terror incident in London.

It’s a difficult, if not impossible, position for the White House as the minutes count down until that critical vote. In other words, Trump has Washington right where he wants it – unless it all
falls apart.

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Everything you need to know about Trump’s labor secretary nominee

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Century Bank chairman Alexander Acosta, President Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, will face the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for his
confirmation hearing today.

President Donald Trump tapped Acosta to be his pick for labor secretary back in February.

Acosta replaced Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, fast food executive Andrew Puzder, who withdrew himself from consideration.

Aside from his work at Century Bank, Acosta has experience serving on the National Labor Relations Board and has an extensive background in law, including teaching employment law.

But he has courted controversy as well, overseeing a plea deal with financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while he served as a U.S. attorney in Florida that was kept secret from Epstein’s
alleged victims. Trump, as well as former President Bill Clinton, spoke highly of Epstein before allegations surfaced in 2005.

“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years,” Trump said in a 2002 New York Magazine story. “Terrific guy.”

Here is everything you need to know about Acosta, Trump’s choice to lead the labor department:

Name: R. Alexander Acosta

Hometown: Miami, Florida

Education: Acosta has his bachelor’s degree and his law degree from Harvard.

What he does: Acosta currently serves as chairman of the board of U.S. Century Bank, the largest domestically owned Hispanic community bank in Florida, a post he took up in 2013. He is also the
dean of the Florida International University (FIU) law school, a post he’s held since 2009.

What he used to do:
Acosta formerly was a member of the National Labor Relations Board.

In 2003, President George W. Bush selected Acosta to serve as assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s civil rights division. Acosta made history as the first Hispanic man to hold the rank of
assistant attorney general. The Miami native went on to serve as the U.S. attorney for Florida’s southern district.

Acosta started off his law career as a clerk for Justice Samuel Alito, when Alito was an appeals judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He then went on to practice law in
Washington D.C. at the Kirkland & Ellis, specializing in employment and labor issues.

He also taught classes at George Mason University on employment law, disability-based discrimination law and civil rights law.

What you might not know about him: If confirmed, Acosta would be the first Hispanic member to serve in Trump’s Cabinet.

About his Senate testimony for American Muslim civil rights

As dean of FIU Law, Acosta testified in front of a Senate judiciary subcommittee on March 29, 2011, arguing for the protection of the American Muslims’ civil rights in a post-9/11 America.

Acosta read to the Senate subcommittee members two accounts of American Muslims – the first of his FIU law student that enlisted in the U.S. military after the 9/11 attacks.

The second account was of a young girl who after 9/11 was suspended from school because she would not remove her hijab.

“[School officials] could have taken this opportunity to say that fear is wrong, that respect and tolerance for another’s faith is right, and that these are founding principles of our nation,”
Acosta said at the time. “Instead, the school officials fed the fear, signaling to Nashala’s fellow sixth-graders that the headscarf, and by extension that her faith, should be suppressed.”

Acosta went on to praise the actions of the Justice Department in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and President George W. Bush’s visit to the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. on Sept. 17, 2001.

“These efforts following 9/11 were important. They set a tone. They reminded those who might be tempted to take out their anger on an entire community that such actions were wrong,” Acosta said.

His controversial deal with Jeffrey Epstein

While serving as the U.S. Attorney for Florida’s southern district, Acosta’s office cut a deal with Epstein, a wealthy financier who was being investigated by the FBI for allegations that he had
engaged in sexual misconduct with up to dozens of underage girls.

The 2008 agreement — called a secretive “sweetheart deal” by the lawyers for two of the alleged underage victims — effectively immunized Epstein from federal prosecution in exchange for his
guilty plea in state court and a light jail sentence.

Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to one count of solicitation of a prostitute and one count of solicitation of a prostitute who is a minor. He spent 13 months in a private wing of the Palm Beach
county jail and was released in 2009. Epstein is registered as a level three sex offender.

The Epstein deal, which Acosta oversaw and approved, remains the subject of an ongoing victims-rights lawsuit in federal court filed in 2008 against the federal government. Acosta is not named as a
defendant in the lawsuit.

The judge overseeing the case ruled that Acosta’s office had the legal obligation to inform the victims of the agreement with Epstein, but there has been no resolution on the question of whether
the deal should be invalidated, as the victims seek.

In a 2011 letter, Acosta defended the deal and accused Epstein’s defense lawyers of a “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

Acosta argued that while critics think the prosecution should have been tougher, and “evidence that has come to light since 2007 may encourage that view,” if more evidence was available to them at
the time perhaps “the outcome may have been different.”

“Our judgment in this case, based on the evidence known at the time, was that it was better to have a billionaire serve time in jail, register as a sex offender and pay his victims restitution than
risk a trial with a reduced likelihood of success,” Acosta wrote.

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Neil Gorsuch emotional about right-to-die questions in Supreme Court confirmation hearings

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The right-to-die argument took center stage on the third day of Supreme Court confirmation hearings, prompting an emotional response from nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.

In 2006, Gorsuch wrote a book titled The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia about the ethical and legal debate surrounding the issues. In the book, Gorsuch said he opposed assisted suicide and euthanasia, including death with dignity laws, which make the practices legal in five states.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, broached the topic during her line of questioning.

Feinstein endorsed the California assisted suicide bill, which would allow terminally ill people to request life-ending medication from their doctors, in 2015. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the landmark legislation later that year that would allow terminally ill people to request life-ending medication from their doctors.

“I, in my life, have seen people die horrible deaths — family, of cancer — when there was no hope. And my father begging me, ‘stop this, Dianne, I’m dying,'” Feinstein said. “My father was a professor of surgery.”

“Trying to save him — there are times you can’t,” she went on. “And the suffering becomes so pronounced, I just went through this with a close friend. This is real and it’s very hard. So tell us what your position is in the situation with California’s end of life option act, as well as what you have said on assisted suicide.”

Gorsuch grew somewhat emotional in his response, describing his position and his own experiences.

“We’ve all been through it with family. My heart goes out to you, it does, and I’ve been there with my dad, okay? And others,” he said.

“And at some point you want to be left alone — enough with the poking and the prodding. I want to go home and die in my own bed in the arms of my family,” he went on.

In his answer to the question of extreme pain at the end of life for the terminally ill, he said he advocated for medical solutions, even if they came with risks.

“The position I took in the book on that was anything necessary to alleviate pain would be appropriate and acceptable, even if it caused death, not intentionally, but knowingly,” he said. “I drew a line between intent and knowingly.”

“I have been there,” he said, pointedly. “I have been there.”

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Feds conducted series of tests to determine credibility of new aviation threat

Purestock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — U.S. authorities became convinced that security measures for certain U.S.-bound flights needed to be boosted only after conducting a series of tests to determine the credibility of new intelligence indicating that ISIS associates were trying to develop explosives-laden electronics that could be smuggled onboard planes, ABC News has learned.

The tests were executed in recent weeks and led authorities to one conclusion: “It can be done,” as one source put it.

The Department of Homeland Security ultimately banned all electronics bigger than a cellphone from the cabins of some direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries.

Sources said that the airports affected by the restrictions were not directly named in the most recent threat intelligence gathered by authorities, but those airports were identified through intelligence analysis paired with other government information.

In an interview with ABC News, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, warned about the “new aviation threat.”

“We know that our adversaries, terrorist groups in the United States and outside the United States, seek to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner. That’s one of their highest value targets. And we’re doing everything we can right now to prevent that from happening,” Swalwell said Tuesday.

Nearly two years ago, ABC News first reported that an internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of major U.S. airports. Undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials, ABC News reported. The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system.

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Supreme Court nominee seeks distance from Trump administration, says attacks on federal judges ‘disheartening’

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Judge Neil Gorsuch sought to distance himself from the Trump administration and slam the president for his attacks against federal judges during his testimony before members of Congress on Tuesday, his second day of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Gorsuch said he was offended by language used by President Trump, who has a history of lashing out against federal judges involved in cases that are not in his favor.

In February, Trump appeared to question the legitimacy of a federal judge who temporarily blocked his controversial travel ban and called him a “so-called judge.”

Last year, Trump suggested that a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University was biased because of his Mexican heritage.

“When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity, the motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening. I find that demoralizing, because I know the truth,” Gorsuch said.

When Gorsuch was asked if “anyone” included Trump himself, Gorsuch responded, “Anyone is anyone.”

Gorsuch also refused to say whether he’d support or undermine a travel ban barring citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

“I’m not going to say anything here that would give anybody any idea how I would rule in any case that could come before the Supreme Court or my court of the 10th Circuit,” Gorsuch said in reference to the travel ban. “It would be grossly improper of a judge to do that.”

But Gorsuch stressed to Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Trump’s authority on national security matters is limited.

“Nobody is above the law in this country and that includes the president of the United States,” Gorsuch said, rejecting the idea that he is a surrogate for Trump or a particular interest group.

Gorsuch was quizzed for hours by the 20-member committee about his career as a federal judge, his understanding of precedent in the law as it applies to landmark Supreme Court cases and whether or not he could be impartial to the executive branch.

At one point, Gorsuch was forced to deny that he made any promises to Trump before accepting the nomination to be the next Supreme Court justice in an effort to assure senators that he is not beholden to the president.

“I have offered no promises on how I’d rule on any case to anyone and I don’t think it’d be appropriate for a judge to do so,” Gorsuch said.

“You should be reassured, no one in the process from the time I was contacted to the time I was nominated, no one asked me for any commitments in any kind of case,” Gorsuch added in response to further questions from committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Gorsuch said he interpreted judicial independence as a no-brainer.

“There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country,” he said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, repeatedly asked Gorsuch if he knew who was behind a reported $10 million dark money political ad campaign working in his favor. Dark money refers to funds given to organizations that do not have to be disclosed publicly.

“I know there’s a lot of money being spent as I understand it by both sides,” Gorsuch quipped.

Whitehouse pressed again, “Do you know who is spending the money?”

“You’d have to ask them,” Gorsuch said.

Whitehouse fired back: “I can’t because I don’t know who they are. It is just a front group.”

Republicans later came to his defense and gave Gorsuch another opportunity to dismiss the idea that organizations with dark money have his support.

“Nobody speaks for me,” Gorsuch said. “Nobody. I speak for me. I am a judge. I don’t have spokesmen. I speak for myself.”

In an exchange with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, Gorsuch addressed the controversy surrounding alleged comments he made last year about women abusing maternity leave for benefits.

Gorsuch clarified that he believed asking a prospective hire if she was planning to have a baby would be an “inappropriate question” and that comments he made during a classroom discussion were taken out of context.

“We talk about the pros and the cons in this dialogue that they can think through for themselves how they might answer that very difficult question,” Gorsuch said about his conversations with students in his class at the University of Colorado.

He continued, “I ask it of everybody. How many of you have had questions like this asked of you in the employment environment? An inappropriate question about your family planning. I am shocked every year, senator, how many young women raise their hand. It’s disturbing to me.”

Durbin also asked Gorsuch about a case involving a truck driver who believed he was wrongly fired. The driver had radioed for help after the brakes on his trailer froze and was told to wait for a repair truck to arrive. Hours later, the truck driver, numb and disorientated from sitting in the unheated truck for hours in freezing temperatures, decided to unhook the trailer from the truck so he could seek assistance.

The truck driver was eventually fired for breaking protocol but a judge later concluded that his firing violated whistleblower provisions. As an appeals court judge, Gorsuch was the sole dissenter in the case and sided with the trucker’s employer.

“Senator, all I can tell you is my job is to apply the job you write. The law as written said he would be protected if he refused to operate, and I think by any plain understanding, he operated the vehicle. If congress wishes to revise the law, I wrote this — I wrote — I said it was an unkind decision. I said it may have been a wrong decision, a bad decision, but my job is not to write the law,” Gorsuch said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking member, expressed her concern for women’s rights by recalling Trump’s campaign promise to overturn Roe v. Wade and the right to an abortion.

“It is a precedent in the United States Supreme Court,” Gorsuch replied. “It has been reaffirmed many times.”

Feinstein asked about wiretapping — Gorsuch said he believed the president does not have the authority to intercept communications — and she inquired about previous cases he had ruled on, including on workers’ rights.

“How do we have confidence in you that you won’t just be for the big corporations, that you will be for the little man?” Feinstein asked.

“The bottom line is that I’d like to convey to you from the bottom of my heart is that I’m a fair judge,” Gorsuch responded. “I can’t guarantee you more than that, but I can promise you absolutely nothing less.”

Democrats have promised to push back on Trump’s nominee in light of the Republicans’ refusal to grant President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, his own confirmation hearings last year.

“Do you think he was treated fairly by this committee? Yes or no,” asked Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

“As I explained to you before, I can’t get involved in politics,” Gorsuch replied.

On Monday, after listening to more than three hours of prepared opening statements and remarks by the committee, Gorsuch testified on a message of unity and respect for the rule of law while paying homage to his mentors including the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he could replace on the bench.

Gorsuch, 49, is a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. He was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and confirmed by the Senate in a voice vote. He clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. He attended Harvard Law and has a Ph.D. from Oxford, where he was a Marshall scholar.

Calling the judgeship a “lonely and hard job,” Gorsuch hailed his own ability to remain neutral and independent in the face of an executive branch that could press its own agenda.

“Putting on a robe reminds us that it’s time to lose our egos and open our minds,” Gorsuch said.

Republicans heaped praise on Gorsuch for his “exceptional” record.

“Fortunately for every American, we have before us today a nominee whose body of professional work is defined by an unfailing commitment to these principles. His grasp on the separation of powers — including judicial independence — enlivens his body of work,” Grassley said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in his remarks, “Donald Trump deserves to be congratulated for listening to a lot of people and coming up with what I think is the best choice available in terms of nominating someone who will keep the conservative philosophy alive and well in the court.”

“We’re here today under very unusual circumstances,” Feinstein said, in reference to Garland.

“I just want to say I’m deeply disappointed that it’s under these circumstances that we begin our hearing,” she added.

Feinstein and other Democrats addressed issues of relevance to most Democrats in their prepared remarks — reproductive rights, voting rights, campaign finance, the environment and gun control, while stressing the role of the Supreme Court in upholding landmark decisions and protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans, including women, people of color, other minorities and the poor.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told Gorsuch that she had “not seen that the rights of minorities are a priority for you. In fact, a pattern jumps out at me. You rarely seem to find in favor of the little guy.”

She continued, “The Supreme Court shapes our society … Will America be a land of exclusivity for the few or the land of opportunity for the many? Will we be a compassionate and tolerant America that embraced my mother, my brothers and me? … You consistently choose corporations and powerful interests over people.”

When it comes to religious liberties and access to contraception, Gorsuch is a defender of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

He sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases, in which the plaintiffs argued for an exemption from the contraception mandate in Obama’s signature health care legislation, the Affordable Care Act, citing their religious beliefs.

In the Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch wrote, “The ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong.”

When it comes to criminal procedure, he dissented in the United States v. Carlos case, arguing that police officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered a home that had a “no trespassing” sign posted.

In a press conference last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York cautioned that Gorsuch has important questions to answer about some of his opinions, most notably “his decisions he wrote that favored the powerful over the powerless.”

Schumer last week suggested that he would not support the confirmation of Gorsuch and urged his Senate Democratic colleagues to do the same.

Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society told ABC News he is confident that “Gorsuch will be confirmed.”

The hearings are expected to conclude by the end of the week. Grassley announced he will call for a vote on Gorsuch’s nomination on April 3.

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Uncommitted Republicans put Obamacare overhaul in jeopardy

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — At least 22 Republicans in the U.S. House oppose or remain undecided on the American Health Care Act, enough to jeopardize the fate of the sweeping bill when it is slated to come for a vote on Thursday evening, according to an ABC News count.

House GOP leaders need 216 votes to pass the bill, which allows for 21 Republican “no” votes, assuming every Democratic member in the chamber also votes “no.” Still, the count remains fluid as the lobbying efforts on both sides continue.

Several conservative members of the Republican caucus say the bill, aimed at repealing and replacing Obamacare, doesn’t go far enough. GOP leaders made tweaks to the bill today in order to try to bring those members on board.

“No” votes from the 22 Republicans would kill the bill in the House. Regardless, the fate of the bill in the Senate, where only three Republican defections would kill the bill, is uncertain.

The White House says President Trump is enthusiastic about the bill and is all-in in the efforts to get it passed. He has been personally and intensively engaged over the past few weeks, warning Republican lawmakers today in a meeting not to be “fools” and kill the legislation, according to some attendees.

“We had a great meeting and I think we’re going to get a winner vote,” Trump told reporters after leaving the meeting. “It was a great meeting, we have terrific people and they want a tremendous healthcare plan — and that’s what we have. And there are going to be adjustments, but I think we’ll get the vote on Thursday.”

Over the next 48 hours, Trump is expected to keep working the phones and meeting face-to-face with lawmakers at the White House. Tomorrow he will host another gathering of members to pitch the bill, following his meeting with the GOP conference today.

There are 430 sitting members in the U.S. House. Five seats are currently vacant.

Nonpartisan Congressional budget officials say the bill will result in 24 million more uninsured people over the next 10 years. It will also save $337 billion from federal deficits in the same time span and lower premiums by 10 percent after a slight increase.

An updated report is expected on Tuesday.

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Supreme Court nominee seeks distance from Trump administration, says attacks on federal judges ‘disheartening’

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) – Judge Neil Gorsuch sought to distance himself from the Trump administration and hit the president over comments made on the campaign trail during testimony before members of Congress on his second day of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Gorsuch hit President Donald Trump over his remarks about federal judges, including a Mexican-American federal judge whom he called a “so-called judge” because of his involvement with a Trump lawsuit.

“When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity, the motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening. I find that demoralizing because I know the truth,” Gorsuch said.

When Gorsuch was asked if “anyone” included Trump himself, Gorsuch responded, “Anyone is anyone.”

Gorsuch also refused to say whether he’d support or undermine a travel ban barring citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

“I’m not going to say anything here that would give anybody any idea how I would rule in any case that could come before the Supreme Court or my court of the 10th Circuit,” Gorsuch said in reference to the travel ban. “It would be grossly improper of a judge to do that.”

But Gorsuch stressed to Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Trump’s authority on national security matters is limited.

“Nobody is above the law in this country and that includes the president of the United States,” Gorsuch said, rejecting the idea that he is a surrogate for Trump or a particular interest group.

Gorsuch was quizzed for hours by the 20-member committee about his career as a federal judge, his understanding of precedent in the law as it applies to landmark Supreme Court cases and whether or not he could be impartial to the executive branch.

At one point, Gorsuch was forced to deny that he made any promises to Trump before accepting the nomination to be the next Supreme Court justice in an effort to assure senators that he is not beholden to the president.

“I have offered no promises on how I’d rule on any case to anyone and I don’t think it’d be appropriate for a judge to do so,” Gorsuch said.

“You should be reassured, no one in the process from the time I was contacted to the time I was nominated, no one asked me for any commitments in any kind of case,” Gorsuch added in response to further questions from committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Gorsuch said he interpreted judicial independence as a no-brainer.

“There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country,” he said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, repeatedly asked Gorsuch if he knew who was behind a reported $10 million dark money political ad campaign working in his favor. Dark money refers to funds given to organizations that do not have to be disclosed publicly.

“I know there’s a lot of money being spent as I understand it by both sides,” Gorsuch quipped.

Whitehouse pressed again, “Do you know who is spending the money?”

“You’d have to ask them,” Gorsuch said.

Whitehouse fired back: “I can’t because I don’t know who they are. It is just a front group.”

Republicans later came to his defense and gave Gorsuch another opportunity to dismiss the idea that organizations with dark money have his support.

“Nobody speaks for me,” Gorsuch said. “Nobody. I speak for me. I am a judge. I don’t have spokesmen. I speak for myself.”

In an exchange with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Gorsuch addressed the controversy surrounding alleged comments he made last year about women abusing maternity leave for benefits.

Gorsuch clarified that he believed asking a prospective hire if she was planning to have a baby would be an “inappropriate question” and that comments he made during a classroom discussion were taken out of context.

“We talk about the pros and the cons in this dialogue that they can think through for themselves how they might answer that very difficult question,” Gorsuch said about his conversations with students in his class at the University of Colorado.

He continued, “I ask it of everybody. How many of you have had questions like this asked of you in the employment environment? An inappropriate question about your family planning. I am shocked every year, senator, how many young women raise their hand. It’s disturbing to me.”

Durbin also asked Gorsuch about a case involving a truck driver who believed he was wrongly fired. The driver had radioed for help after the brakes on his trailer froze and was told to wait for a repair truck to arrive. Hours later, the truck driver, numb and disorientated from sitting in the unheated truck for hours in freezing temperatures, decided to unhook the trailer from the truck so he could seek assistance.

The truck driver was eventually fired for breaking protocol but a judge later concluded that his firing violated whistleblower provisions. As an appeals court judge, Gorsuch was the sole dissenter in the case and sided with the trucker’s employer.

“Senator, all I can tell you is my job is to apply the job you write. The law as written said he would be protected if he refused to operate, and I think by any plain understanding, he operated the vehicle. If congress wishes to revise the law, I wrote this — I wrote — I said it was an unkind decision. I said it may have been a wrong decision, a bad decision, but my job is not to write the law,” Gorsuch said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking member, expressed her concern for women’s rights by recalling Trump’s campaign promise to overturn Roe v. Wade and the right to an abortion.

“It is a precedent in the United States Supreme Court,” Gorsuch replied. “It has been reaffirmed many times.”

Feinstein asked about wiretapping — Gorsuch said he believed the president does not have the authority to intercept communications — and she inquired about previous cases he had ruled on, including on workers’ rights.

“How do we have confidence in you that you won’t just be for the big corporations, that you will be for the little man?” Feinstein asked.

“The bottom line is that I’d like to convey to you from the bottom of my heart is that I’m a fair judge,” Gorsuch responded. “I can’t guarantee you more than that, but I can promise you absolutely nothing less.”

Democrats have promised to push back on Trump’s nominee in light of the Republicans’ refusal to grant President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, his own confirmation hearings last year.

“Do you think he was treated fairly by this committee? Yes or no,” asked Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“As I explained to you before, I can’t get involved in politics,” Gorsuch replied.

On Monday, after listening to more than three hours of prepared opening statements and remarks by the committee, Gorsuch testified on a message of unity and respect for the rule of law while paying homage to his mentors including the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he could replace on the bench.

Gorsuch, 49, is a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. He was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and confirmed by the Senate in a voice vote. He clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. He attended Harvard Law and has a Ph.D. from Oxford, where he was a Marshall scholar.

Calling the judgeship a “lonely and hard job,” Gorsuch hailed his own ability to remain neutral and independent in the face of an executive branch that could press its own agenda.

“Putting on a robe reminds us that it’s time to lose our egos and open our minds,” Gorsuch said.

Republicans heaped praise on Gorsuch for his “exceptional” record.

“Fortunately for every American, we have before us today a nominee whose body of professional work is defined by an unfailing commitment to these principles. His grasp on the separation of powers — including judicial independence — enlivens his body of work,” Grassley said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), said in his remarks, “Donald Trump deserves to be congratulated for listening to a lot of people and coming up with what I think is the best choice available in terms of nominating someone who will keep the conservative philosophy alive and well in the court.”

“We’re here today under very unusual circumstances,” Feinstein said, in reference to Garland.

“I just want to say I’m deeply disappointed that it’s under these circumstances that we begin our hearing,” she added.

Feinstein and other Democrats addressed issues of relevance to most Democrats in their prepared remarks — reproductive rights, voting rights, campaign finance, the environment and gun control, while stressing the role of the Supreme Court in upholding landmark decisions and protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans, including women, people of color, other minorities and the poor.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, (D-Hawaii), told Gorsuch that she had “not seen that the rights of minorities are a priority for you. In fact, a pattern jumps out at me. You rarely seem to find in favor of the little guy.”

She continued, “The Supreme Court shapes our society … Will America be a land of exclusivity for the few or the land of opportunity for the many? Will we be a compassionate and tolerant America that embraced my mother, my brothers and me? … You consistently choose corporations and powerful interests over people.”

When it comes to religious liberties and access to contraception, Gorsuch is a defender of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

He sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases, in which the plaintiffs argued for an exemption from the contraception mandate in Obama’s signature health care legislation, the Affordable Care Act, citing their religious beliefs.

In the Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch wrote, “The ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong.”

When it comes to criminal procedure, he dissented in the United States v. Carlos case, arguing that police officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered a home that had a “no trespassing” sign posted.

In a press conference last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York cautioned that Gorsuch has important questions to answer about some of his opinions, most notably “his decisions he wrote that favored the powerful over the powerless.”

Schumer last week suggested that he would not support the confirmation of Gorsuch and urged his Senate Democratic colleagues to do the same.

Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society told ABC News he is confident that “Gorsuch will be confirmed.”

The hearings are expected to conclude by the end of the week. Grassley announced he will call for a vote on Gorsuch’s nomination on April 3.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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