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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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Mo Brooks, Gary Palmer Win FreedomFighter Award

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Congressmen Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) were two of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks.

FreedomWorks is a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide.
Only members of Congress who score better than 90 on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award.

Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top four percent of all Congressmen in 2017.

Rep. Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017.”

Congressman Palmer said, “I was honored to receive the Freedom Fighter Award this week from FreedomWorks.”

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FreedomWorks President, Adam Brandon, said, “The recipients of the FreedomFighter Award showed a commitment in 2017 to pro-growth economic policies and constitutionally limited government. We’re proud to recognize these senators and representatives. Our work is still cut out for us. Now that we have reduced some regulations and passed a historic tax reform bill, we must continue to pressure Congress to reduce spending to ensure that the prosperity we are seeing now is lasts into the future.”

FreedomWorks Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Jason Pye, said, “The winners of the 2017 FreedomFighter Award deserve applause. These members take tough votes, often going against the leadership of their own party, because they want to do what is right by taxpayers. But consistency is key. America is staring down massive budget deficits as a result of the fiscal profligacy of this Congress. We have to continue working to put our country on a sustainable path, repeal ObamaCare, promote free trade, and continue to rollback the regulatory state.”

“If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great,” Brooks said. “I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”

Congressman Mo Brooks represents the Fifth Congressional District of Alabama.

Congressman Gary Palmer represents the Sixth Congressional District of Alabama.

Both Brooks and Palmer are members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Both congressmen have Democratic general election opponents.

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House passes Byrne amendment protecting funding for Gulf States

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, July 19, 2018 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a government funding bill for the Department of Interior and related agencies, which includes an amendment from Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, to protect a critical funding source for Gulf Coast states, including Alabama.

“For those that don’t know, GOMESA calls for a revenue sharing agreement between the federal government and four Gulf states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama,” Byrne said. “The program is designed to split up revenue from selected oil and gas lease sales in the Outer Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.”

This year alone, the State of Alabama received $21 million under GOMESA. An additional $2.47 million went to Baldwin County and $2.88 million to Mobile County.

“The unique thing about GOMESA is it ensures appropriate funding for the coastal areas that provide the workforce, assume the environmental risk, build much of the infrastructure, and support the offshore oil and gas industry,” Byrne said. “It only makes sense that the coastal areas should receive an adequate share of the revenue.”

“Previously, there have been administrative efforts to direct the money away from the Gulf states and instead devote the resources to national projects,” Byrne continued. “While I appreciate the Trump Administration not including any such proposal in this year’s budget, I still believe it is important for Congress to send a clear, bipartisan message that we do not support moving GOMESA funds away from the Gulf Coast.”

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The Trump Administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal maintained the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) funding. GOMESA was passed by Congress in 2006. It set up revenue sharing for Gulf States for income generated by oil and gas leasing in certain offshore areas of the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, Gulf states whose coastal environments are impacted by oil and gas infrastructure such as pipelines and navigation canals receive a fraction of the total federal revenue to help offset some of those impacts.
The amendment was adopted by a unanimous voice vote. The bill passed by a vote of 217 to 199.

The legislation now goes on to the Senate for its consideration.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

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Jones testifies before International Trade Commission on negative impact of newsprint tariffs

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) testified at a hearing held by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) on the negative impacts recently imposed newsprint tariffs have had on Alabama’s newspapers.

Jones has advocated to stop to these tariffs, which are already hurting newspapers. In April, Jones wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross calling for an end to the newsprint tariff. He has cosponsored bipartisan legislation to suspend the tariffs while the Commerce Department examines the impacts of the tariffs on the printing and publishing industry.

“This issue first came to my attention back in March, when Bo Bolton, publisher of the Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Alabama—home of Harper Lee—traveled all the way to Washington D.C. to meet with me and my team,” Sen. Jones testified. “Bo’s message was urgent and clear: newly implemented tariffs by the Department of Commerce threatened the livelihood of his small-town newspaper, and thousands of other small, community papers that serve as the lifeblood of their communities throughout this country.”

“I have had a regular stream of publishers visit with me sharing the exact same message, asking for any relief possible before they would have to start cutting their services and laying off what few staff they might have,” Jones continued. “The sources for domestically produced newsprint are quite scarce, requiring newspapers around the country to purchase their newsprint from Canadian suppliers. In other words, the domestic jobs that would be protected by these tariffs is relatively minuscule compared to the number of jobs in the United States that these tariffs threaten. But one domestic producer, NORPAC, which is owned by a New York hedge fund, filed a complaint with the Department of Commerce alleging Canadian newspaper suppliers were being subsidized by their government and thus able to sell below market value. As I understand is common practice, the Commerce Department levied preliminary tariffs of 6.53 percent in January. That jumped to an average of 22 percent in March, when the Canadian producer was found to be [selling] below the market price.”

“Here’s what I just don’t understand: why would this Administration levy these outrageous tariffs when our own newspaper publishers, logging industry, and paper suppliers do not support the decision?” Jones continued. It seems to me that the only thing being protected by this tariff is a small portion of a Wall Street hedge fund’s portfolio. It certainly isn’t protecting the 600,000 printing and publishing jobs across the country, including jobs at every newspaper in the state of Alabama.”

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“The Decatur Daily is facing an increase of $450,000 over their 2017 costs, and they’ve eliminated 11 full-time positions already,” Jones said. “Aside from payroll, newsprint is their single largest expense. You’ll hear that refrain from many small papers. Samuel Martin, publisher of the Birmingham Times in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote to me saying that they are, “hanging on by our fingertips already to survive and things like these tariffs will be the difference on surviving for so many.””

Most newspapers and journals are in the process of migrating to the internet. The Alabama Political Reporter does not have an old fashioned print version so uses no newsprint whatsoever.

“While some big-named media outlets have found their footing in the digital age, that’s not the case for everyone,” Jones said. “For many in small towns in Alabama and across the country, folks still like to get their news from actual newspapers. They still like to read a paper front to back. Hold it in hand. They cut the coupons. They read the local events calendar. They learn about what their local officials are doing or, in some cases, not doing. Frankly, there are still far too many places where Americans still struggle to get access to broadband. These folks don’t have the option to go online to get their news. The digital model just doesn’t work there, at least not yet.”

“These small newspapers cover local news that wouldn’t make it into larger regional papers if they were to shut their doors. Local businesses lose perhaps their only outlet in which to reach their customers,” Sen. Jones testified. “The biggest losers in this fight ultimately will be the residents that rely on local newspapers to stay informed. So when I say that these papers are the lifeblood of communities, it is not an exaggeration. It’s a fact. That’s why I have been so deeply concerned about this tariff. If it’s not rolled back, it will present and existential threat to local newspapers that are already strapped. “

“It is why I left duties on Capitol Hill this afternoon to come here today to urge you to reconsider this tariff,” Jones said. “Instead, consider the significant impact it has already had on these small American businesses. I hope you take to heart the urgent calls you are hearing today and make the right decision to eliminate these tariffs and to protect this industry and valuable the service that it provides to all of us.”

Forbes Media Chairman Steve Forbes wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “Since March a tariff of up to 30 percent on Canadian uncoated paper has raised the price of newsprint, making it difficult for cash-strapped newspapers to circulate their work. As if limiting economic freedom weren’t enough, the administration is also undermining Americans’ freedom of expression with this needless tax on journalism.”

North Pacific Paper Company plans to hire 50 new full- and part-time employees, the company announced May 2. The company, owned by the New York hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners, also announced the limited restart of operations for one of its paper machines, idled this past year.

The Longview, Washington-based company attributed the moves to “the U.S. uncoated groundwood papers industry starting to see a level playing field against unfairly traded imports.”

On May 2 North Pacific Paper Company (Norpac) which filed the trade complaint last fall has hired 50 more employees and is reopening a third machine at their Longview, Washington facility which they had shut down last year.

“After years of unfair, demoralizing market conditions and the associated difficult decisions that were required to survive, we have worked with our employees to test and create a system that can respond rapidly to the dynamic needs of the customers we serve. As more clarity regarding the impacts of competing on a level playing field become clear we will further improve our organizational capability,” said CEO Craig Anneberg in a news release.

Doug Jones was elected to the Senate in a special election on December 12.

(Original reporting by newsandtech.com contributed to this report.)

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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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