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The Hill’s Morning Report – Tensions rise at Jackson hearing

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing
Associated Press/Alex Brandon
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. 

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Thursday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators. Readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

  

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson completed her second day of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, moving her closer to a confirmation vote by the full Senate in the coming weeks despite GOP attempts to score points during her hearings.

 

The tenor of Wednesday’s questions took on a nastier tone from Republicans on the dais as they relentlessly pressed Jackson over her handling of seven child pornography cases during her tenure as a district judge (The Hill). Leading the charge were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), two lawmakers with presidential aspirations.

 

As The Hill’s Jordain Carney details, Hawley asked Jackson multiple times if she regretted a three-month sentence that she gave in one of the cases, saying that he viewed it as a “slap on the wrist.” 

 

“What I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences,” Jackson said after Hawley asked multiple times if she regretted it. 

 

Hawley was among a group of senators who asked about the subject, including Cruz and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). However, tensions were at their highest between the GOP and Democrats, with the latter accusing the minority party of using the hearings as campaign fodder ahead of the midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race.

 

On multiple occasions, Cruz tangled with Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), with Durbin at one point cutting off the Texas senator after he attempted to go over his allotted 20 minutes to keep questioning Jackson.

 

“You have to follow the rules,” Durbin shot back (The Hill). 

 

However, the GOP concerns over Jackson’s handling of the child pornography cases is not expected to go away. Ten Senate Republicans on the panel signed a letter to Durbin calling for copies of the pre-sentencing reports related to the relevant cases. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) was the lone GOP senator who did not sign on. 

 

The Illinois Democrat declined the request, saying that obtaining the pre-sentencing reports would be unprecedented for the panel. 

 

“It’s merely a fishing expedition in dangerous territory. … This has never happened in the history of this committee,” Durbin said.

 

Cruz indicated to PBS News that he may boycott the committee’s vote if the reports are not provided. Durbin on Wednesday set a committee vote for April 4 (The Hill). 

 

Barring any last-minute developments, today is set to be the final day of hearings for Jackson’s nomination and will feature a number of legal experts, chosen by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, to testify about her qualifications for the court (The Associated Press).

 

The Associated Press: Takeaways: Joy, tears, culture wars dominate Jackson hearing.

 

The Hill: Jackson tears up as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) addresses her historic nomination.

 

Politico: “It’s bullshit”: Democrats reject that Jackson is soft on crime.

 

The Hill: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) knocks GOP attacks on Jackson: “There’s no ‘there’ there.”

 

******

 

UKRAINE CRISIS: President Biden and European leaders are in Brussels today to fortify an alliance that has not pushed Russia out of Ukraine using the pain of sanctions, has not triggered a mass uprising in Russia against the governance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has not persuaded China and other Russian allies to declare enough is enough with Putin’s war — and is costing economies in Europe and the United States dearly in rising oil prices.

 

Today’s heroes remain the Ukrainian people, who continue fleeing across borders by the millions, battling the Russian military amid bombed-out urban moonscapes and pleading with the West to do more, and do it fast, if their independent democracy is to survive.

 

Biden today brings to meeting rooms in NATO headquarters new U.S. sanctions against Russia’s lawmakers, a checklist of how he hopes European partners will remain glued together and intelligence warnings that the world needs to be prepared should Putin decide to use chemical, biological or tactical nuclear weapons to drive Ukraine and the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky to surrender.

 

The New York Times: U.S. makes contingency plans in case Russia uses its most powerful weapons. 

 

NATO is worried enough about Putin’s mindset, military miscues while executing his invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s mounting casualty statistics that the alliance expects agreement today to use battle groups to fortify NATO’s easternmost flank (Washington Examiner and The New York Times). Biden will end his week in Poland, where a humanitarian and refugee crisis weighs on leaders there.

 

The Associated Press: Between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in a month in Ukraine, NATO estimated on Wednesday. In comparison, 15,000 Russian forces died in Afghanistan during a decade-long conflict.

 

Western military analysts suggest Russia will struggle to maintain its current war plan without fortifications and adjustments. Russia would also be challenged to maintain a prolonged occupation of Ukraine, should Moscow seize Kyiv, according to analysts (Bloomberg TV and NPR). 

 

Zelensky, who will address the emergency gathering of NATO, European Union and Group of Seven leaders, continues to hold out hope for successful cease-fire and peace talks with Moscow. He asked Biden earlier this month not to sanction oligarch Roman Abramovich on the theory that Putin’s friend might serve as a helpful intermediary to bring an end to Putin’s invasion (The Wall Street Journal).

    

The Hill: Biden talks up more sanctions, NATO unity.

 

CNN: In a statement today, the United States criticized Russia’s decision to reopen and artificially prop up its stock market, halted since February, calling it “not a real market and not a sustainable model.”

 

The Hill: Five things to watch for in Brussels.

 

The U.S. on Wednesday formally declared that the Russian military has committed war crimes in Ukraine, according to a written statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” he said. A formal United Nations investigation of alleged war crimes by Russia is ongoing at the same time that NATO leaders fear Moscow will choose to violate international law by using banned weapons against Ukrainian forces and civilians (The Associated Press).

 

Russia on Wednesday declared U.S. diplomatic personnel in Moscow persona non grata, or unwelcome. A total number of Americans to be expelled was not specified. The move was in response to Washington’s expulsion of 12 personnel from the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, as well as a Russian employee of the U.N. secretariat (CNN).

 

The Hill: International sanctions, trade and financial blockades amid public pressure on multinational companies to exit Russia voluntarily produced slow responses thus far.

 

The Hill: Biden navigates pressure to increase domestic oil production amid rising petroleum prices, which jumped 5 percent on Wednesday to more than $121 a barrel.

  

Introducing NotedDC: The Hill’s curated commentary on the beat of the Beltway. Click here to subscribe to our latest newsletter

 

  LEADING THE DAY

 

POLITICS: Former President Trump on Wednesday rescinded his endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks in the Alabama GOP Senate primary, citing the lawmaker’s call for voters to move past the 2020 presidential election as he continues to fall in the polls against rivals in the contest. 

 

In a statement, Trump said Brooks has become “woke” and was disloyal to him for doubting his claims about the 2020 presidential election.

 

“When I endorsed Mo Brooks, he took a 44-point lead and was unstoppable. He then hired a new campaign staff who ‘brilliantly’ convinced him to ‘stop talking about the 2020 Election,’” Trump said in a statement. “Very sad but, since he decided to go in another direction, so have I, and I am hereby withdrawing my Endorsement of Mo Brooks for the Senate. I don’t think the great people of Alabama will disagree with me. Election Fraud must be captured and stopped, or we won’t have a Country anymore” (The Hill).

 

Brooks is running against Katie Britt, who served as the retiring Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-Ala.) chief of staff, and businessman Mike Durant. Trump did not endorse either candidate, though both have pushed for his support. 

 

In response, the Alabama congressman accused Trump of asking him to remove Biden from the White House following the 2020 election despite his protests. 

 

“President Trump asked me to rescind the 2020 elections, immediately remove Joe Biden from the White House, immediately put President Trump back in the White House, and hold a new special election for the presidency,” Brooks said in a statement. “As a lawyer, I’ve repeatedly advised President Trump that January 6 was the final election contest verdict and neither the U.S. Constitution nor the U.S. Code permit what President Trump asks. Period.”

 

The statement is notable from Brooks, a staunch Trump backer who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse shortly before the ex-president’s supporters attacked the Capitol. As The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch notes, Brooks seems to suggest that Trump asked for the lawmaker’s involvement in unwinding Biden’s victory even after the attack on the Capitol.

 

Max Greenwood, The Hill: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) draws contrast with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over releasing GOP agenda.

 

The State: Katie Arrington, Trump-backed House candidate in South Carolina, texts ex-Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney “you really are a true piece of shit” after he said she was “not the best candidate.” 

 

The Hill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backed Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) in his primary runoff on Wednesday. “I support my incumbents. I support every one of them from right to left. That is what I do,” Pelosi said at a press conference in Austin, Texas, adding that she supports Cuellar specifically in his runoff. The FBI searched his home in January, reportedly related to an ongoing probe involving Azerbaijan and businessmen in the U.S. 

 

The New York Times: Trump is guilty of “numerous” felonies, prosecutor who resigned says.

 

Democrats across the country are warning of looming threats to the Affordable Care Act ahead of this year’s midterms, marking a return to an issue that helped them win the House in 2018 amid turbulence this cycle.

 

Throughout the 2022 cycle, Republicans have zeroed in on kitchen table issues like rising inflation and crime, putting Democrats behind the eight-ball with their messaging. However, the majority party is ramping up its chatter around the 12th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and is warning voters that a Republican majority in Congress, coupled with a 2024 GOP White House win, could lead to a repeal of the landmark health care law. 

 

“Most people don’t like the conversation that starts with what we’re going to take away from you,” said former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who played an integral role in implementing the ACA (The Hill).

 

CNN: The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a GOP bid to block a Wisconsin congressional map but sided with Republicans in a state legislative map dispute.

  

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

 

CORONAVIRUS: Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 971,162; Tuesday, 972,634; Wednesday, 973,437; Thursday, 974,830.

 

Amid rising public health alerts about the spread of the infectious BA.2 omicron subvariant within Europe, Asia and now in the U.S., COVID-19 precautions and restrictions continue to be lifted. Airline CEOs, in a letter to Biden, said they want the government to lift mask mandates for passengers on planes and in airports (The Wall Street Journal).

 

Moderna said on Wednesday it will seek emergency authorization for its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 6. In trials, the vaccine proved up to 44 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness among children 6 months to 2 years old and 37 percent effective in children 2 through 5 years old. The company is studying the effectiveness of a booster shot, and one of its top officials said she expects a booster will be necessary for that age group (The New York Times). Pfizer thinks it could have a vaccine ready by May. Here’s where things stand for young children and vaccines as many parents say access to effective doses can’t come soon enough (CNN).

 

The White House continues to push House and Senate leaders to resolve a stalemate over additional funding to support COVID-19 responses and preparedness and send the president a bipartisan agreement ASAP. To that end, new proposals and lists of potential budget offsets to avoid adding to the deficit were making their way Wednesday from Democrats to the minority, said Romney, who had not yet seen the specifics (The Hill).

 

Measured over two long pandemic years, the U.S. Capitol has been shuttered to public tours for public health and security reasons. That’s about to change on Monday for limited, phased-in access to school groups and up to 15 visitors led by lawmakers and their aides on a rotating schedule ahead of the summer tourist season (The Associated Press and The New York Times).

 

OPINION

 

I’m the prime minister of Estonia. Putin can’t think he’s won this war, by Kaja Kallas, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3Lf8Ncz

 

Zelensky doesn’t know the end of his story. Winston Churchill didn’t either, by Andrew Marr, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/36JMBbe 

 

A GOP specialty: Bad Senate candidates, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/3L2Y0ls 

 

WHERE AND WHEN

 

The House meets at 1 p.m. for a pro forma session.

 

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of the America COMPETES Act. Day 4: The Senate Judiciary Committee continues confirmation hearings for nominee Jackson.

 

The president is in Brussels today for discussions with European leaders. Biden posed for a group photograph at NATO headquarters in the morning. He addressed his NATO counterparts during a gathering focused on deterring Russia in its war with Ukraine. He addresses a G-7 leaders’ meeting, then holds a bilateral meeting with European Council President Charles Michel at the Europa Building in Brussels. Biden will join a separate summit and speak to the European Council about deterring Russia. He is scheduled to wrap up the day with a press conference at NATO headquarters, then remain in Brussels overnight. 

 

Vice President Harris will deliver virtual remarks to mark one year since Biden’s executive action promoting voting access.

 

Blinken is in Brussels with the president.

 

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv, on YouTube and on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. ET. Also, check out the “Rising” podcast here.

 

ELSEWHERE 

  

INTERNATIONAL: North Korea on Thursday launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time since 2017 in a major escalation of ongoing provocations that ended a self-imposed moratorium on long-range weapons. The White House condemned the missile test, saying the launch was “a brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the missile was believed to be a new kind of ICBM, and condemned the launch as an “unforgivable outrage” (NBC News and Reuters). … The Taliban on Wednesday refused to open schools to girls in seventh grade and older, reversing a promise made as the school year started in Afghanistan. The move is meant to appease the Taliban’s hardline backers, particularly those in rural regions who do not want to send their daughters to school, and will hurt their standing with the international community (The Associated Press).

 

BRAIN SCIENCE: A study published on Tuesday in Nature Communications provides what it describes as the first example of a patient in a fully locked-in brain state — suffering from degeneration affecting motion — communicating at length with the outside world without the use of traditional auditory speech, said the leader of the study, which is part of litigation and research controversy. Such brain-communications research, also being explored by other world scientists, holds potential promise for patients in unresponsive situations, including minimally conscious and comatose states, as well as the rising number of people diagnosed with ALS worldwide every year. That number is projected to reach 300,000 by 2040 (The New York Times).

 

GI JANE, JOE: The U.S. Army scrapped plans for a uniform physical fitness test for all soldiers, choosing instead to have different fitness standards for female and older soldiers, the service announced Wednesday following a three-year review. The decision follows a RAND-led study that found male soldiers were more easily passing an Army Combat Fitness Test, compared with female and older soldiers who were “failing at noticeably higher rates,” seen as a threat to retention of key personnel (The Hill). The fitness scoring through six events will now be based on gender and age. Soldiers who fail may retake the test, but repeated failures risk career setbacks and even being kicked out of the Army (Defense One).

 

RIP: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the first woman to hold that title and a consequential Cabinet member during former President Clinton’s second term, died of cancer on Wednesday at age 84 (The Associated Press). When Albright left government, she helped found an influential global consultancy that bore her name, authored six best-selling books, taught at Georgetown University and remained in close contact for decades with international diplomats. In her 2018 book, “Fascism: A Warning,” Albright offered a succinct snapshot of Putin and his ambitions: “He tells bald lies with a straight face, and when guilty of aggression, blames the victim. He has convinced many … that he is a master strategist, a man of strength and will. Confined to Russia, these facts would be sobering, but Putin, like Mussolini nine decades ago, is watched carefully in other regions by leaders who are tempted to follow in his footsteps. Some already are.”

  

THE CLOSER

 

And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the 94th Academy Awards that will be handed out on Sunday, we’re eager for some smart guesses about some of the nominees and Oscars history.

 

Email your responses to asimendinger@thehill.com and/or aweaver@thehill.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.

 

Which of the following nominees in the big four acting categories (best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress) is looking to take home their first statuette on Sunday?

  1. Olivia Colman
  2. Nicole Kidman
  3. Will Smith
  4. K. Simmons

Director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story” is nominated for best picture, marking his 12th film to be considered in that category. Which of his following films did NOT win best picture?

  1. Lincoln
  2. Saving Private Ryan
  3. Jaws
  4. All of the above
  5. None of the above

The most awards won by a single film in Oscars history is 11, an achievement completed by which three films?

  1. “Ben-Hur,” “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
  2. “Ben-Hur,” “West Side Story” (1961) and “Titanic”
  3. “West Side Story” (1961), “Titanic” and “The English Patient” 
  4. “West Side Story” (1961), “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

Thinking about the five individuals nominated for best director this year, how many total nominations in that category have they assembled collectively? The nominees are: Spielberg; Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”); Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”); Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”); and Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”).

  1. 10
  2. 13
  3. 16
  4. 19

 

Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

Tags Antony Blinken Ben Sasse Cory Booker Dick Durbin Donald Trump Joe Biden Josh Hawley Kathleen Sebelius Ketanji Brown Jackson Kevin McCarthy Lindsey Graham Mick Mulvaney Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Mo Brooks Nancy Pelosi Richard Shelby Ted Cruz Vladimir Putin

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