A Week in Confirmations

  

This week in Washington will be filled with both cabinet and judicial confirmation-related activities. On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on Betsy DeVos’ nomination to become Secretary of Education. Following a frenetic week of both grassroots organizations mobilizing against her nomination and Republican defections by Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, it appears that DeVos is likely to win a close confirmation with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Vice President Pence is ascribed the role of President of the U.S. Senate under Article One of the Constitution, and thus can cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate. This would be the first time a cabinet nominee is confirmed by a Vice Presidential tie-breaking vote.

Later in the week (likely on Thursday), Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) will also have his own confirmation vote to become the nation’s Attorney General. Sessions’ vote was strategically timed to come after DeVos so that Republicans could count on his vote to confirm her nomination. Though Sessions’ confirmation will also be close, he will likely be confirmed along party lines with a 52-48 Senate Republican majority. Health and Human Services cabinet nominee, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), may also have his confirmation vote later this week. The earliest his vote could take place is Friday morning.

Labor Secretary Nominee, and current CKE Restaurants CEO, Andrew Puzder, is scheduled to have his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday following four separate delays by the committee of jurisdiction. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions refused to consider his nomination until all of his paperwork was completed and submitted to the Office of Government Ethics.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is also barnstorming the Senate this week in the hopes that he too can win Senate confirmation later this spring. He’s scheduled to meet with some fourteen sitting Senators, most of whom are red-state Democrats who may control his confirmation fate.

On Wednesday, the House Democratic Caucus will head to Baltimore for a three-day retreat. Democrats are expected to hammer out a messaging and legislative strategy for the 115th Congress. They’ve branded the retreat with the theme “Fighting for All Americans.”

Stay tuned for more updates from Capitol Hill later this week.

President Trump’s first Two Weeks

  

In his first week as president, Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders aimed at delivering on the promises that he made during the campaign. Among those campaign pledges that Trump has already addressed: undoing the Affordable Care Act, building the US-Mexico border wall, lifting federal prohibitions on drilling, and banning refugees and citizens from Muslim countries as well.

Trump’s administration has also instituted a temporary communication ban at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services. Although it’s not an executive order, Trump instructed those agencies to stop sending out news posts, specifically on social media.

While his executive orders might seem dramatic or even dystopian, it’s important to recognize that a signature does not necessarily indicate immediate action.

Newly inaugurated presidents typically sign sweeping executive actions during their first 100 days to demonstrate their commitment to constituencies. During President Obama’s first week, he signed roughly the same amount of executive orders as Trump — he famously closed Guantanamo on day one, but that prison remains operational (and could expand during Trump’s presidency).

Below you can check out a running list of Trump’s executive orders that we’ll continue to update as he enacts more.

  1. Restricting abortion access – Trump reinstated the global gag order, also known as the Mexico City Policy, which was introduced by President Reagan in 1985. The policy prohibits federal aid to family planning organizations that counsel on or provide abortions.
  2. Enacting a federal hiring freeze – Other than in the military or public safety positions, Trump has temporarily frozen hiring for federal agencies with open positions. Trump’s intention is to reduce the size of the federal government workforce over time.
  3. Dismantling of the Affordable Care Act – With help from the Republican-held Congress, Trump initiated plans to dismantle Obamacare. On Jan. 23, he signed an order that will “minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the Affordable Care Act. Essentially, this means that federal agencies do not have to comply with the law if it is fiscally straining.
  4. Withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership – Trump rejected Obama’s TPP trade deal and withdrew from the alliance, as he promised to do. His reasoning? Refusing to ratify the TPP might make it easier to keep jobs in America.
  5. Enacting a federal regulation freeze – Like the federal hiring freeze, Trump also froze the implementation of all new federal regulations currently awaiting approval. Regulations like climate policies that Obama instituted during his final week will be reviewed by Trump’s administration.
  6. Renewing formerly banned drilling – Trump signed an order that would immediately renew construction of the North Dakota Access Pipeline that the Army Corps of Engineers halted in November. Additionally, Trump overturned Obama’s rejection of construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which would transport shale from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
  7. Restricting immigration – The wall between Mexico and America will be built, according to another order signed by Trump. Responding to the threat of domestic terrorism, Trump has also signed a directive to block refugees from Syria from entering America as well as a 90-day halt on anyone from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen from entering the country, according to the New York Times. Syrian refugees will reportedly not be allowed to enter the country for an indefinite amount of time. Refugees from other countries will have their cases reviewed after a 120-day halt on processing.
  8. Limiting federal regulations – Trump issued a somewhat vague order which requires the repeal of two federal regulations for every new regulation implemented. Aimed at limiting regulations for businesses, Trump described the order as beneficialfor reducing governmental regulations’ “damaging effects on our small business, our economy, [and] our entrepreneurial spirit.”
  9. Restructuring of the National Security Council – In the midst of considerable backlash to his immigration ban, Trump quietly restructured the National Security Council. The president promoted his Senior Adviser, Steve Bannon, to a position on the council (which is typically reserved for Generals). The Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have historically advised the president on matters of National Security, were demoted to optional meeting attendance. The White House defended the reorganization by claiming the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s presence might not be required for every meeting and falsely claiming the order mirrored directives from Presidents W. Bush and Obama.

President Trump Nominates Judge Neil Gorsuch (10th Circuit) to the Supreme Court

  

Last night, President Trump tapped federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court.

Gorsuch is a right-leaning judge who once clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy.  Gorsuch, 49, is among youngest of recent Supreme Court nominees (Justice Clarence Thomas was 43 when nominated, and Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan were both 50.)

In 2013, he was part of the lower court that sided with Hobby Lobby. That’s the private company that successfully argued that Obamacare violated its religious beliefs by requiring it to cover birth control for its employees. Gorsuch is considered an “originalist” – meaning he believes the Constitution should be interpreted exactly how the Founding Fathers wrote it. If approved, he’d be filling the seat of another originalist, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died almost exactly a year ago.

Under the Constitution, the President nominates a Justice and the Senate has to approve. Last Congress, the Republican Party argued that they didn’t think President Obama should fill the seat in an election year. Obama went ahead and picked centrist federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland but since the GOP controlled Congress, it blocked Garland all year. Dems were less than pleased.

Supporters say this is exactly what they wanted: a right-leaning justice who’ll keep the Supremes to the right. Critics remember Trump’s campaign promise to appoint someone who’d overturn Roe v Wade – and worry Gorsuch could help make that happen.

What’s next? Gorsuch now has a job interview with the Senate. And since the Dems aren’t super thrilled to be interviewing Gorsuch, they’ll be giving him extra scrutiny. They may even choose to filibuster (read: block) his confirmation. If that happens, the GOP could ‘go nuclear’ – aka change the rules so they wouldn’t need the Dems to approve Trump’s pick at all.

Freedom of Religion: In Hobby Lobby Stores vs. Sebelius, Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion siding with the craft store and its owners arguing the courts should accept one’s interpretation of their faith’s requirements and that they were likely to succeed in claiming the ACA contraception mandate infringed on their freedom of religion.

Regulations:  Gorsuch has also questioned the constitutionality of the current volume of federal regulations Caring Hearts Personal Home Services vs Burwell.

Guns: While not a Second Amendment question, Gorsuch has indicated disagreement with some convictions for a felon’s knowing possession of a firearm, suggesting that prosecutors must prove that the defendant both knew he or she was a felon and knew that he or she was in possession of the firearm (rather than just knowingly possessing a firearm being sufficient for conviction). In one such case, Gorsuch did note that “gun possession is often lawful and sometimes even protected as a matter of constitutional right,” but it was still settled on statutory rather than Second Amendment grounds.  These cases are less an indication of Gorsuch’s views on gun rights, and rather evidence that — like Scalia — Gorsuch is an advocate for the rule of lenity. Conservative outlet American Thinker criticized Gorsuch for joining the majority opinion in U.S. v. Rodriguez, where the court cited Terry v. Ohio to uphold the legality of the search of a man who was found to be in possession of an illegal handgun. American Thinker wrote the case “causes us to have some concern about his understanding of the relationship between the government and an armed citizenry,” while acknowledging that the ruling was on Fourth Amendment grounds, not Second Amendment grounds.