Senate leaders trade barbed words over Supreme Court
By CATHERINE LUCEY and LISA MASCARO
Thursday, June 28
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate battle over Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is off to a fiery start — even before the president makes his choice. Republican and Democratic leaders traded accusations and barbed comments Thursday on the new vacancy, abortion rights and the debate to come.
Both sides are quickly mobilizing after Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose votes have been key in deciding cases on abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights, sent shockwaves through Washington Wednesday by announcing his retirement plans.
Republicans are pressing for speedy action — assuming Trump makes a quick announcement of his pick — but Democrats argue that the confirmation action should be put on hold until after the November midterm elections. The Democrats are citing Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s successful block of President Barack Obama’s nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, in 2016. Republicans argued the seat should be left open because it was a presidential election year.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday it would be the “height of hypocrisy” to vote before this year’s election on Trump’s nominee.
“If the Senate’s constitutional duty to advise and consent is just as important as the president’s right to nominate, which the Constitution says it is, why should a midterm election be any less important that a presidential election?” Schumer said.
Majority Leader McConnell, R-Ky., fired back, saying the situations are not the same.
“This is not 2016. There aren’t the final months of a second-term constitutionally lame duck presidency with a presidential election fast approaching. We’re right in the middle of this president’s very first term,” McConnell said
Trump said he would start the effort to replace Kennedy “immediately” and would pick from a list of 25 names that he updated last year. McConnell declared that the Senate “will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall.”
With Kennedy’s departure, Republicans have a longed-for opportunity to tip the balance of the court. It already has four justices picked by Democratic presidents and four picked by Republicans, so Trump’s pick could shift the ideological balance toward conservatives for years to come.
Several Democratic senators considering 2020 presidential runs jumped into the debate Thursday morning rallying from the steps of the Supreme Court.
Sen. Cory Booker pledged a long-term battle to prevent Trump from rushing a conservative judge onto the court, even as he acknowledged it will be difficult for Democrats to block any nominee since Republicans control the Senate.
“We now must fight,” the New Jersey Democrat said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Kennedy’s retirement sets up a situation where “women’s lives are at risk.”
The New York Democrat said that giving Trump the chance to pick Kennedy’s replacement threatens abortion rights and raises the question of “whether we are going to be arresting women for making decisions about their bodies.”
If Republicans unite behind Trump’s selection, there’s little that Democrats can do to stop it. Republicans changed the Senate rules last year so that Supreme Court nominees cannot be filibustered, meaning only 51 votes will be required to confirm.
Last year, Trump’s first nominee to the court, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed 54-45, with three Democrats voting in favor. Those Democrats — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota— are facing difficult re-election races and could find it difficult to oppose the president’s second pick.
A flashpoint in the court debate will be abortion rights, which puts a spotlight on key female Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Both have supported abortion access. The abortion issue could also prove difficult for Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, the most endangered Senate Republican running for re-election this fall, whose views have shifted against abortion rights.
Murkowski vowed a careful vetting of the pick, saying she has “extremely high” standards for the Supreme Court.
“There is no doubt that the President’s nominee to succeed Justice Kennedy can expect exacting scrutiny from the Senate and that is the standard I will apply in evaluating the nominee,” she said.
Collins, meanwhile, said the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that codified abortion rights is “settled law.”
“I always look for judges who respect precedent,” she said Wednesday to reporters.
Schumer said the Senate should reject “on a bipartisan basis any justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade or undermine key health care protections.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump deflected a question on whether he should wait until after the midterm elections to announce a successor to Kennedy, saying he hasn’t “really thought about that. I think you want to go as quickly as possible.”
The president stressed his confidence in the picks on his list, saying, “You see the kind of quality we’re looking at when you look at that list.”
Some possible nominees being eyed include Thomas Hardiman, who serves alongside Trump’s sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Raymond Kethledge, a federal appeals court judge who clerked for Kennedy. Also of interest are Amul Thapar, a federal appeals court judge from Kentucky who is close to McConnell; Brett Kavanaugh, a former clerk for Kennedy who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.; and Amy Coney Barrett, who serves on the federal appeals court in Chicago.
Among Trump’s counselors is Leonard Leo, who is taking a leave of absence as executive vice president of the Federalist Society to serve as an outside adviser to the process. Leo said Wednesday that it was important to first focus on Kennedy’s legacy and demonstrate appreciation. From there, he said, the “White House will begin to winnow the president’s list to a manageable short list.”
“The president has been very clear over and over what his standards are,” Leo said.
Senators were bracing for the tough days ahead.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Judiciary Committee, bluntly talked of the “blood sport” likely to be triggered by the nomination fight.
“Americans ought to aim higher,” he said.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.
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A Progressive Plan for Ending Poverty — Including Rural Poverty — in America
November 03, 2017 by Katherine Gallagher Robbins
Economic hardship exists in nearly every American community. Families across the country have been devastated by medical debt, overwhelmed by unexpected expenses, or financially and emotionally shaken by the loss of a job. And the experience of economic insecurity — too little to eat, not enough money to turn the heat on, the stress of trying to make all the pieces fit together when they simply won’t add up — is familiar for far too many Americans.
But while economic hardship does not have geographic boundaries, certain communities face outsize challenges. Transportation to work or school might be particularly problematic in areas with few buses or trains. Economic insecurity might by driven by the soaring rents in some areas and declining home values in others. Families in some areas grapple with a lack of affordable, accessible child care to help them manage work and caregiving responsibilities, while others grapple with a lack of work due to a closed factory or community hospital.
The diverse face of poverty in America is why efforts to combat economic insecurity need to address not only the common issues faced by so many Americans but also the distinct needs of different communities.
To be sure, all Americans need health insurance, a safe place to live and food on their table to feel safe and secure. They all deserve access to good jobs and opportunities to help them thrive. In fact, the Center for American Progress has a progressive blueprint that shows how to make this happen — how we can invest in people and communities across the nation by taking steps such as raising the minimum wage, improving the unemployment insurance system, breaking the link between mass incarceration and poverty, and more.
But while rural communities would benefit from these steps, they also have distinct needs and priorities that require special focus. Poverty is higher among prime-age workers in rural America compared to urban and suburban areas, and rural communities have lagged behind urban communities in job growth since the Great Recession. Rural residents are disproportionately likely to have a disability, which can both lead to and result from poverty.
Though the nation’s opioid epidemic touches every corner of the country, it has hit rural communities particularly hard, leaving economic and emotional devastation in its wake. For rural areas, a special focus on boosting job growth — especially policies that would create good-quality jobs, provide a fair shot for workers with disabilities, and provide access to treatment for substance misuse to help people participate in the workforce — is particularly important.
And, of course, policymakers must not ignore the diversity of rural areas, too. Solutions best suited for addressing poverty in the Mississippi Delta may differ from those that would work best for Native American or Appalachian communities.
What is abundantly clear is that proposals put forth by President Trump would be harmful to people in rural and small-town America. CAP’s research found that in the rural and small-town counties that Trump won in the 2016 election, one-third of families live paycheck to paycheck — a rate that is 24 percent higher than in urban counties.
Our analysis showed that Trump’s proposed policies would make struggling rural residents’ circumstances worse, costing their areas clean-energy job opportunities, reducing people’s access to quality health care, making housing less affordable, increasing hunger among kids and seniors, and more.
CAP’s work has also revealed that veterans, who disproportionately live in rural areas, would be harmed by Trump’s budget proposals, which slash programs they and their families rely on to access job training, put food on the table, and help make ends meet.
Finally, another CAP analysis has shown that Trump’s budget would completely eliminate organizations that have been the bedrocks of rural economic development, such as the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, and pull the plug on key POWER Initiative programs, severely undermining coal communities and other rural areas.
Ending poverty in America — including rural poverty — is about making smart policy choices that serve the individualized needs of communities. It is about investing in families and jobs, rather than giving tax breaks to millionaires and corporations. It’s about ensuring that all Americans have access to the opportunities and supports they need to thrive, no matter where they live.
About the Author
Katherine Gallagher Robbins is the director of family policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.
Agricultural Subsidies Aid the Wealthy, Not Those in Rural Poverty
November 03, 2017 by Ryan Nabil and Vincent H. Smith
As Congress and the current administration seek to reduce poverty, policymakers should be wary of wasteful programs that do little to help poor Americans. Agricultural subsidies — especially popular with the largest and wealthiest farm business operations — largely fall into that category.
Those subsidy programs are often marketed by farm interest groups as helping the rural poor, many of whom voted for the current president in key Electoral College states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, North Carolina and in the Florida panhandle. In fact, farm subsidy programs do little for the rural poor and even less for the urban poor.
The subsidy programs that the House and Senate agricultural committees are defending and would like to expand include the federal crop insurance subsidy program, direct payments to farm businesses through so-called supplementary “farm income safety net” initiatives, and outlays on conservation programs.
Taken together, these programs cost about $20 billion every year. Crop insurance subsidies alone cost $8 billion, 30 percent of which goes to private insurance companies. Two additional “safety net” programs — price loss coverage and agricultural risk coverage — cost taxpayers between $6 billion and $8 billion in annual payments. Farm businesses also receive $5 billion a year in subsidies for adopting or simply continuing farming practices (such as soil conservation and protecting the environment) that are already being used because they are profitable.
Who gets all that federal money? About 70 percent of all crop insurance and other farm income safety net payments flow to 10 percent of the largest crop-producing farm businesses. This group comprises less than 100,000 farm operations, each of which on average receives more than $140,000 every year. Those farms are owned by households with annual incomes and levels of wealth that are multiple times higher than those of the typical American family, and certainly far higher than those of families in poverty. Conservation subsidy payments also predominantly flow to the largest farm operations and wealthiest farming households.
In contrast, 10 percent of the smallest farms receive a mere pittance, on average no more than about $50 — from the federal crop insurance and safety net programs. And the bottom 80 percent, including midsize farms, receive less than 10 percent of all subsidy payments.
Subsidy advocates have also argued that farm subsidies increase employment opportunities in rural areas, but there is no substantive evidence to support that claim. Labor needs continue to decline within and beyond farm households, and among farms that receive most of the subsidies. For example, about 70 percent of all crop insurance subsidies and other safety net program outlays are paid to the producers of three crops: corn, soybeans and wheat. The production of those crops is heavily mechanized and very little unskilled labor is needed. Conversely, farm enterprises that are more labor intensive such as those that raise livestock, and grow fruits and vegetables, receive very little in the way of direct farm subsidies.
Effectively, these programs do nothing to alleviate poverty in rural areas. As Dan Sumner, Joe Glauber and Parke Wilde point out in their study “Poverty, Hunger, and U.S. Agricultural Policy,” those programs also do little for the urban poor, as their effects on the price of food in supermarkets and inner-city bodegas are negligible.
If a major objective of Congress and the Trump administration is to develop and sustain programs that help many low-income households, then continuing these programs is not the way to go. While far from perfect, the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) targets 43 million Americans — including 13 million children — whose family incomes fall below the poverty line. Many of those families and children are not able to have adequate access to food.
Programs that increase food availability for those families, and feed children in need who would otherwise go to bed and to school hungry, are far more effective tools in the fight to mitigate hunger and improve nutrition. In the present, they would improve the health of those in need, and in the future, they would improve the children’s learning outcomes.
One current problematic idea that is being given serious consideration by some lobbyists and legislators is the proposal to cut nutrition programs to provide more farm bill revenues for expanded farm safety net subsidy programs. The reality is that those programs would continue to favor financially advantaged farm business owners.
Instead, improving the cost effectiveness and targeting of SNAP and other nutrition programs makes better policy sense. Robbing anti-poverty programs to fund farm subsidy initiatives for the benefit of high-income, wealthy households should be of concern to all legislators and voters.
About the Authors
Ryan Nabil is a global macroeconomy and agricultural policy researcher in the Economic Policy Studies department at the American Enterprise Institute. Vincent H. Smith is the director of Agricultural Policy Studies and a visiting scholar at AEI. He is also a professor of economics in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University.