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Analysis | Could Jones be a decisive vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee?

via Office of U.S. Senator Doug Jones
Chip Brownlee

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Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate are gearing up for what could be a massive confirmation fight over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, and Alabama’s junior senator, Doug Jones, in his first year of a short two-year term, will likely find himself right in the middle of it all.

Trump is expected to nominate a new associate justice to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks, following the retirement of the high court’s longtime swing vote, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who will step down on July 31.

When Trump does make his pick for a new justice, he will be sending that nominee to a tightly divided Senate, one with 51 Republican senators, 47 Democratic senators and two independent senators who caucus with Democrats.

And there’s another complicating factor: Sen. John McCain, the Republican from Arizona who is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer,  has been largely absent since December, leaving Republicans with an even slimmer 50-49 majority.

Although Vice President Mike Pence, the president of the Senate, can vote in the case of a tie, Republicans will need the votes of everyone in their caucus to hold on to Kennedy’s seat.

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To Republicans’ advantage, the Senate has effectively abandoned its filibuster rule so a 60-vote majority is no longer needed to end debate and a simple majority can confirm a judicial nominee. But a far-right nominee, one who outwardly opposes abortion and other hot-button issues — should Trump choose to go that route — may not have it so easy.

Some Republican senators have shown a willingness to break with their party. Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, insinuated Wednesday that she will take a hard look at any nominee who would consider overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established the legal right to an abortion in 1973.

“I view Roe v. Wade as being settled law,” Collins said. “It’s clearly precedent and I always look for judges who respect precedent,” Collins told reporters on Wednesday, according to The New York Times.

Kennedy, during his 30-year tenure on the high court, served as a moderating voice and often sided with more liberal justices on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights. His vote halted efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Over the course of the last 15 or so years, probably going back a little bit further than that, the court has had two main camps, arguably one conservative camp and one liberal camp, and Justice Kennedy has walked right through the middle of that and has effectively had one of the most impactful terms, in my opinion, on the Supreme Court, as a function of procedure,” said University of Alabama Assistant Professor Allen Linken, an expert on the Supreme Court.

Abortion is likely to be the key issue when Senators do get a nominee. Many conservatives, including those in the Alabama Legislature, are hoping the Court, if it attains a favorable and reliable conservative majority, will take up a case and overturn the right to an abortion.

Republicans in the Alabama Legislature placed a constitutional amendment on November’s general election ballot that, if passed, would effectively declare Alabama an anti-abortion state and preemptively grease the wheels for banning abortion by law. The measure’s supporters said it was necessary to prepare if the Supreme Court tilted to the right.

With Collins’ comments Wednesday, it’s possible she would consider voting against a nominee who appears poised or primed to overturn that precedent. And Sen. Jeff Flake, another Republican from Arizona, said Tuesday — a day before any news of Kennedy’s retirement — that he would block all of Trump’s judicial nominees (there are many waiting to be confirmed to the federal bench) if the Senate doesn’t take a vote to prevent Trump’s new tariffs.

It’s not clear if his promise to stall any nominees would extend as far as a Supreme Court nominee, should the Senate get around to a vote while Flake is still in office.

“If there were a vacancy there? I hadn’t thought of that. I haven’t thought of that,” Flake said Tuesday before Kennedy’s resignation, according to the Washington Post.

If either of those senators went nuclear and split from their party on a Supreme Court confirmation, that could leave Republicans in deep water, searching for votes from centrist Democrats who might back a Trump nominee. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is also considered a potential swing vote.

When Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed last year, three Democrats voted for him, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Joe Donnelly, who are all up for re-election in competitive races in heavily Republican states. All Republicans voted to confirm Gorsuch.

Even if all three of those Democrats decided to vote with their party and against a Trump nominee, that would still leave a newly elected Democrat from a state that is perhaps even more Republican and more supportive of Trump: Sen. Doug Jones from Alabama.

“Sen. Jones becomes a crucial vote if Republicans can’t keep 51 votes in the Senate or really 50 votes because of the president of the Senate, Vice President Pence,” Linken said.

And Trump’s nominee could decide the ideological tilt of the high court for decades to come, applying even more pressure to a confirmation vote.

“There’s no question that no matter who the president nominates and, assuming that person is confirmed, the court will become more conservative as we see it on some set of issues, even a substantial set of issues,” said University of Alabama Law School Professor Paul Horwitz, a former clerk on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and expert in constitutional law.

But Horwitz said it’s unlikely that Republicans would vote against a GOP nominee, though their influence could have some effect.

“Certainly, it’s a closely divided Senate with a couple of senators who have some leverage. And that may affect who gets nominated, although it is difficult to say,” Horwitz said.

Both professors said it was unlikely it would get to that point, though, because Republicans are unlikely to need Jones’ vote.

Jones said during the campaign that he considers abortion a settled view, and he has said nothing to suggest that he would vote for a nominee to the court that would be likely to overturn that precedent.

Months before the election, Jones said he supports a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body.

“I’m going to stand up for that, and I’m going to make sure that that continues to happen,” he said. “I want to make sure that as we go forward, people have access to contraception, they have access to the abortion that they might need, if that’s what they choose to do.”

And since then, he joined other Democrats, Collins and Murkowski in stopping a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. Three other Democrats, Manchin, Donnelly and Sen. Bob Casey, R-Pennsylvania, voted in support of the measure.

Regardless, Jones — should he want to be re-elected in 2020 when his term is up — is stuck in a difficult situation that will require him to balance the desires of his Democratic base and moderate Republicans who he will need to crossover and vote for him in two years.

 

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Young Republicans support Jeff Sessions

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, the Young Republican Federation of Alabama released a statement in support of embattled U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Jefferson “Jeff” Beauregard Sessions, III, is a former U.S. Senator from Alabama.

The Young Republicans cited as a basis for their support that Jeff Sessions was born and raised in Alabama, attended Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama School of Law; served his Country in the U.S. Army Reserves for 13 years ultimately attaining the rank of Captain; was nominated by President Ronald W. Reagan (R) to serve as US District Attorney for Southern District of Alabama in 1981; served in that position for 12 years; was elected Alabama’s Attorney General in 1995; served in United States Senate from 1996 until 2017; and was a leading voice for Republican causes and a champion of conservative values; is a loving husband, father, and grandfather.

“Jeff Sessions was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as the United States Attorney General in November 2016 and sworn in as Attorney General in February 2017,” the Young Republicans wrote. “And whereas, Jeff Sessions has restored honesty, integrity, and impartiality in the office of the Attorney General; And whereas, Jeff Sessions has vigorously advanced President Trump’s agenda, especially in the areas of immigration and violent crime, And whereas, Jeff Sessions is a man of strong character who has honorably served the people of Alabama for decades. Be it resolved, as Republicans, we adamantly support those who follow the rule of law and those who enforce it. As Alabamians, we have seen the dangers of elected officials choosing political convenience over integrity. We trust America’s centuries old justice system and its ability to protect the innocent and bring truth to light.”

“The officers of the Young Republican Federation of Alabama offer our full support to a former YRFA Chairman and the current US Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” the YRs concluded.

Jackie Curtiss is the Chair of the YRFA.

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On Monday, AG Sessions was in Hoover, Alabama speaking to law enforcement officers at the Department of Justice National Public Safety Partnership Symposium. Meanwhile in Washington, a national firestorm was happening at the highest levels of the Administration. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was at the White House meeting with Chief of Staff John Kelly. Anonymously sourced media reports claimed that Rosenstein offered to resign after media reports surfaced that he had in 2017 suggested wearing a wire to expose Donald Trump as unfit for office. Rosenstein denies the original reporting by Axios; but reportedly some in the White House believe the report of extreme disloyalty by Rosenstein.

AG Sessions supports Rosenstein, and has reportedly threatened to quit of Rosenstein is fired. The President was in New York City Monday preparing to welcome the United Nations. Rosenstein reportedly will meet with the President on Thursday to discuss his future with the Administration.

Rosenstein oversees the Robert Mueller investigation into allegations of the 2016 Trump campaign colluding with Russian intelligence. Critics of the President have suggested that firing Rosenstein or Mueller could lead to Mueller advancing a charge of obstruction of justice against the President.

Sessions did not take questions from the media on Monday.

Original reporting by Fox News and CNN contributed to this report.

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Jones introduces legislation to combat deadly fentanyl trade

Chip Brownlee

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is introducing a new law intended to combat the trade of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl by targeting foreign countries that don’t stop the export of the drug into the United States.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, is introducing the legislation with Jones.

The bipartisan Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act would block American foreign aid for countries that don’t cooperate with U.S. drug enforcement efforts related to stopping the trafficking of fentanyl.

If the law passes, a fentanyl-producing nation — China for example — would lose access to the Export-Import Bank and be ineligible for other U.S. taxpayer-subsidized aid if it fails to cooperate with the U.S. on narcotics control, Jones’ office said.

“Like many places across the country, Alabama is in the midst of a substance abuse and overdose crisis, in part because of dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl.” Jones said. “Fentanyl not only harms those who use it, but it also poses a serious threat to our first responders should they be exposed. This legislation is another smart step to stop illicit fentanyl from being transported across our borders and into our communities.”

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China is the leading source country of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds in the United States, including both scheduled and non-scheduled substances, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizure data.

Fentanyl, Carfentanil and their “designer” alternates are so deadly that 2 milligrams in contact with the skin or ingested is deadly. A pack of table sweetener usually measures about 1000 milligrams, for comparison.

Without an immediate antidote, like noxolone, a person will die.

Fentanyl is usually used by medical providers for pain relief, and even then, it is rarely used because it is the most powerful opioid available. The street forms of the drug are especially dangerous because they can purposely or accidentally be inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

“The opioid and heroin epidemic has become increasingly lethal in part due to the widespread presence of illicit fentanyl,” Toomey said. “Since fentanyl can be fifty times as potent as heroin, just a tiny amount of this dangerous substance can kill a person, including first responders who may be inadvertently exposed to the drug when responding to an overdose victim or a crime scene. For the sake of our communities and the safety of law enforcement, countries like China must stop illicitly exporting fentanyl and improve their drug enforcement efforts now.”

This law would require the State Department to list in its annual report on narcotics trafficking countries that are major producers of fentanyl. This requirement is already in place for countries that are major sources of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

According to provisional counts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29,418 Americans died from overdoses involving fentanyl in 2017, an increase of 840 percent in just five years.

 

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Shelby announces a $3.2 million grant for new research facility at Troy

Brandon Moseley

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Friday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) announced that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded a $3,200,000 grant to Troy University to build a new facility for researching recycled plastic materials.

“The new facility at Troy University will serve as an avenue for groundbreaking research, creating an environment for students to learn the issues involving polymers and develop impactful solutions for the plastics industry,” said Senator Shelby. “I am confident that this funding will promote economic development throughout Troy and the surrounding area by training the workforce of the future.”

The $3.2 million grant from NIST will provide Troy with a three-year grant to fund research involving the properties of polymers in plastics during the course of recycling and manufacturing. The new facility will give students the opportunity to learn about the issues and solutions related to plastics recycling. The work at the new center will be guided by an industry road mapping exercise and technical advisory board. The first phase of the funding is primarily intended to develop existing labs to include capabilities in polymer characterization, testing, and processing.

Troy University’s new Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences (CMMS) will serve as a fully integrated multi-disciplinary research facility that will aid across majors and academic ranks. Undergraduate students will be encouraged to enter into research early in their academic career in order to develop a sustained and deeper understanding of the field. Faculty researchers and students will form the mainstay for the Center. The establishment of the center will facilitate and enhance Troy University’s present partnering with the local polymer and plastics industry in order to increase competitiveness in the marketplace. This will assist in improving the targeted industries’ ability to retain and increase job production while also allowing for expansion of products and markets – both locally and globally.

According to original reporting by National Geographic’s Laura Parker, 9.1 billion tons of plastics have been created since the plastics industry burst on the scene in the 1950s. Only nine percent of that has been recycled. It is estimated that by the middle of this century there will be more plastics floating around the ocean on a per ton basis than fish. It takes approximately 400 years for platics to degrade in a land fill.

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To read the National Geographic story:
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/

Richard Shelby is the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Shelby announces $4 million in critical opioid treatment grants for Alabama community health centers

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) announced that 15 community health centers located in Alabama have received a total of $4,038,000 in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support increased treatment and prevention for opioid and substance abuse.

“It is of the utmost importance that we work to fund the fight against the national opioid crisis,” said Senator Shelby. “Nearly every county in Alabama is affected by this growing problem. These HHS grants will allow community health centers across the state to provide treatment to patients with opioid and substance abuse and support addiction prevention programs, helping our communities tackle this widespread epidemic.”

The grants were awarded to community health centers in: Bayou La Batre, Birmingham, Centreville, Gadsden, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Parrish, Selma, Scottsboro, Troy, and Tuscaloosa.

64,000 Americans were killed from drug overdoses in 2016, more than were killed in a decade of fighting in the Vietnam War. More than 300,000 Americans have been killed by opioids since 2000. In 2016 more than 20.1 million Americans were addicted to prescription painkillers and/or illicit opioids.

Responding to the unprecedented drug crisis has been a priority of the administration of President Donald J. Trump (R).

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“We are already distributing nearly $1 billion in grants for addiction prevention and treatment, and more than $50 million to support law enforcement programs that assist those facing prison and facing addiction,” the President said. “We have also launched an $81 million partnership to research better pain management techniques for our incredible veterans.”

The President’s proposed Federal Budget requested $3 billion in new funding in 2018 and $10 billion in 2019 for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the opioid epidemic by expanding access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. The funding would also go toward addressing mental health concerns.

On September 19, HHS awarded nearly $352 million to 1,232 community health centers across the nation, including the 15 in Alabama, through the Expanding Access to Quality Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Services (SUD-MH) awards. The SUD-MH awards support health centers in implementing and advancing evidence-based strategies that best meet the substance use disorder and mental health needs of the populations they serve.

The following 15 community health centers in Alabama will receive the $4,038,000 in grant funding:

  • Bayou La Batre Area Health Development Board, Inc., Bayou La Batre – $285,000
  • Christ Health Center, Inc., Birmingham – $285,000
  • Alabama Regional Medical Services, Birmingham – $285,000
  • Aletheia House, Inc., Birmingham – $201,750
  • Cahaba Medical Care Foundation, Centreville – $296,000
  • Quality of Life Services, Inc., Gadsden – $293,000
  • Central North Alabama Health, Huntsville – $285,000
  • Health Services, Inc., Montgomery – $285,000
  • Franklin Primary Health Center, Inc., Mobile – $285,000
  • Mobile County Health Department, Mobile – $285,000
  • Capstone Rural Health Center, Parrish – $287,250
  • Rural Health Medical Program, Inc., Selma – $285,000
  • Northeast Alabama Health Services, Inc., Scottsboro – $110,000
  • S.E. Alabama Rural Health Associates, Troy – $285,000
  • Whatley Health Services, Inc., Tuscaloosa – $285,000

“Addressing the opioid crisis with all the resources possible and the best science we have is a top priority for President Trump and for everyone at HHS,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “The more than $1 billion in additional funding that we provided this week will build on progress we have seen in tackling this epidemic through empowering communities and families on the frontlines.”

“This week, HHS updated its strategic framework for tackling the opioid crisis, which uses science as a foundation for our comprehensive strategy,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health and Senior Advisor for Opioid Policy. “With these new funds, states, tribes, and communities across America will be able to advance our strategy and continue making progress against this crisis.”

Earlier this week, Senator Shelby voted to pass “The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018,” which was a bipartisan effort of over 70 U.S. Senators and includes proposals from the Senate Committees on: Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Finance; Judiciary; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

The legislation would improve detection of illegal drugs at the border, improves the sharing of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs data between states, and aims to reduce the use and supply of dangerous drugs.

Senator Richard Shelby is the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Analysis | Could Jones be a decisive vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee?

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 6 min
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