This week: Senate ramps up Supreme Court nomination fight

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) participate in a photo op prior to their meeting on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.
Greg Nash

The Senate is moving to the next stage of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination, as Democrats aim to get her confirmed by early next month. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee will start its four-day hearing at 11 a.m. on Monday, giving Jackson the chance to introduce herself to the American public and for Republicans to use the high-profile hearings to question her. 

The first day of the hearing will be opening statements from Jackson, as well as the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Jackson will be introduced by Judge Thomas Griffith, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Lisa Fairfax, of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.  

Jackson, if she is confirmed, will be the first Black, female justice and the first former public defender. 

“It’s going to be a historic moment … as Judge Jackson appears before the committee. Gaveling the hearing to order as chair of the committee will rank as one of the highest honors of my career in Congress,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. 

“The American people will have a chance to meet Judge Jackson, learn about her, her professional record and her life experience,” Durbin added. 

Democrats can confirm Jackson on their own as long as all 50 of their members support her, and are present to vote, and Vice President Harris breaks a tie. 

But Democrats are hopeful they’ll be able to pick up at least one GOP vote. Three Republicans— Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — previously voted for Jackson for her nomination for the U.S. appeals court for the D.C. circuit. 

Republicans have vowed that they would sidestep personal attack against Jackson and keep the hearing respectful. After opening statements on Monday, Jackson will appear before the committee on Tuesday and Wednesday for two rounds of questions. Thursday, the final day of the hearing, will be testimony from outside experts. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), during an interview with CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” said that the committee would ask “tough questions” of Jackson. 

“She’ll be treated much better than Democrats typically treated Republican nominees like Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh. It will be a respectful, deep dive into her record, which I think is entirely appropriate for a lifetime appointment,” McConnell said. 

But the hearing is likely to have rhetorical fireworks after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of several GOP senators on the panel viewed as having presidential ambitions, first said in a string of tweets late last week that Jackson was soft on sex-related crimes, including child porn offenders. 

“I’ve been researching the record of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, reading her opinions, articles, interviews & speeches. I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” Hawley wrote as part of the tweet thread. 

Hawley sparked fierce pushback from both the White House and Durbin. 

“He’s wrong. He’s inaccurate and unfair in his analysis. … And he’s part of the fringe within the Republican Party. This was a man who was fist-bumping the murderous mob that descended on the Capitol on January 6th of the last year. He doesn’t have the credibility he thinks he does,” Durbin said on ABC News’s “This Week,” referring to a viral photo of Hawley giving a fist-pump to protesters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 before the riot. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Hawley’s criticism “relies on factual inaccuracies and taking Judge Jackson’s record wildly out of context.” 

“After weeks of trying hard to find some way to attack Judge Jackson — first saying she was an affirmative action pick, then saying she was the product of dark money, then saying she would be suspect because she was a public defender — a group of far-right Republican senators … have launched a last-ditch, eve-of-hearing desperation attack on her record on sentencing in sexual offense cases,” Psaki said. 

But other Republicans on the committee have signaled that they will follow Hawley’s line of attack during the days-long hearing, in addition to probing Jackson’s work related to Guantánamo Bay detainees and time as a public defender. 

“I’m very troubled about her record, whether it was when she was in private practice, the sentencing commission, or on the bench. She would’ve let 1,500 prisoners go during COVID. Among the ones she let go were a murderer, [and] a bank robber. These are hardened criminals back on the streets. She also has been soft on child pornography,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said during an interview with Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a member of the committee, accused the White House of having a “whataboutist response,” adding that, “we need real answers.” 

Russia trade bill 

Senators are in talks over how to quickly pass legislation to cut off normal trade relations with Russia, after the House overwhelmingly passed a bill last week in a 424-8 vote. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that he was working “with my colleagues to find a way to move it through this chamber quickly” and that he expected it would get “broad bipartisan support.” 

“For weeks members of the Senate, the House and the White House have been working together to draft a strong and effective bill that will increase the pain on Putin’s Russia and that our European allies will accept,” Schumer added. 

The bill passed by the House raises tariffs on goods from Russia and Belarus and sets up strict guidelines for when the president can restore normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus based on the state of the Ukraine war. The Biden administration will additionally be obligated to push for Russia’s removal from the World Trade Organization. 

To get the bill through the Senate quickly, they would need buy-in from all 100 senators. 

But Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said that he wanted to include codifying the ban on Russian oil imports in the legislation. The House previously passed oil ban legislation separately, but that bill hasn’t been taken up by the Senate. 

“Congress must support him and the Ukrainian people by immediately passing legislation to impose a Russian energy importation ban and revoke Russia and Belarus’s favorable trading status,” Crapo said.     

Crapo, noting that the House passed two separate bills — one banning oil imports and a separate bill revoking preferred normal trade relations — said that the Senate “should combine these measures … and quickly pass this legislation.” 

Republican lawmakers have also expressed concerns about an expansion and renewal of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act included in the bill. 

China competitiveness bill 

The Senate is moving to enter formal negotiations with the House to resolve their dueling anti-China competitiveness bills. 

Absent an agreement to speed things up, the Senate will take a procedural vote on Monday at 5:30 p.m. on the House-passed legislation, as a step toward convening a conference committee between the House and Senate to work out a final agreement. 

“It’s far better for Democrats and Republicans to reach an agreement to vote on this bill quickly, and we’ll keep working on that. … It’s regrettable that a small band of Republicans are determined to stand in the way of quick action,” Schumer said. 

The Senate passed legislation last year to provide $120 billion for activities at the National Science Foundation, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, and NASA; create a new directorate of technology and innovation at the National Science Foundation and provide $52 billion for semiconductor provisions, among other provisions. 

But the House passed its own bill last month aimed at bolstering domestic supply chains and scientific research to make the U.S. more competitive with nations like China. 

If the House and Senate work out a final deal on competitiveness legislation, they’ll need to pass the final agreement before sending it to Biden. 

Tags anti-China competitiveness bill Brett Kavanaugh Charles Schumer Clarence Thomas Dick Durbin Jen Psaki Josh Hawley Judiciary Committee Ketanji Brown Jackson Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Marsha Blackburn Mike Crapo Mike Lee Mitch McConnell NPTR preferred normal trade relations Russian oil ban Supreme Court confirmation Supreme Court hearing Supreme Court nomination Susan Collins U.S.-Russia trade

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