Indy DC Download: The Senate approved Trump’s 159th judge as Cortez Masto pounded the drum against VanDyke

The Senate last week focused on confirming President Donald Trump’s 159th judge as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto ramped up her campaign against former state Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The House was out of session last week, though some members involved in the impeachment inquiry remained in Washington to hear testimony from two foreign service officers, the last two witnesses to appear behind closed doors. The House Intelligence Committee announced last week that it will hold public hearings, the first of the inquiry process, on Wednesday and Friday.

Rep. Dina Titus was back in her district over the break, her office said. Titus has participated in the inquiry as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, one of three panels that conducted the depositions.

VanDyke

While the House was away, the Senate confirmed five judges last week, including the 159th nominated by Trump, part of the GOP’s plan to reshape the judiciary by installing conservative judges on the bench. 

Among the last week’s confirmations was the president’s 45th appellate court judge, a feat that will last well beyond a Trump second term should he be re-elected. After last week, one in four active appeals court judges was nominated by Trump. He also surpassed President Jimmy Carter who previously held the record for the most appeals court judges confirmed since.

Along with 45 Circuit Court nominations, the president has also had 112 of his District Court nominations confirmed and two Supreme Court justices for a total of 159.

Trump took a victory lap Wednesday when at a White House gathering with Republican senators, he called his nominees “some of the most gifted scholars, respected jurists, and finest legal minds ever placed on the federal bench.”

On Twitter, Cortez Masto clipped Trump delivering the line and asked: “If these judicial nominees are some of the ‘most gifted scholars, respected jurists, and finest legal minds ever placed on the federal bench,’ then why was Lawrence VanDyke nominated?”

Sen. Jacky Rosen also opposes VanDyke’s nomination.

Cortez Masto’s eight tweets on VanDyke last week came after he was questioned at the end of last month by the Senate Judiciary Committee about his nomination. The hearing quickly focused on a letter issued by the American Bar Association that harshly criticized VanDyke as arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules. The letter also raised concerns about whether VanDyke would be able to be fair to members of the LGBTQ community.

“I will follow up on it because the letter was so over the top,” Sen. Lyndsey Graham said last week when asked about the nomination. 

At the hearing, Graham and other Republicans signaled their support for VanDyke and derided the ABA letter.

Cortez Masto said that she would support the panel confirming the allegations in the letter with the ABA.

“I know some of my colleagues [on the Judiciary Committee] had concerns and they should bring them in to legitimately talk to them,” Cortez Masto said.

She added that the ABA has been “an integral part of our rating system for our judges and I’ve heard the same colleagues who have concerns this time praise them on other judges.”

The letter has led some GOP members on the panel, including Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, to call for the removal of the ABA from the nominee review process. 

“I think if the ABA gets cut out of the process it will be because of this case,” Graham said.

Appropriations

The Senate’s focus on judges drew criticism from Democrats who argued that there is plenty of bipartisan legislation for the Senate to consider instead of pushing through conservative jurists.

“I would encourage Senator (Mitch) McConnell to keep the gears of government moving,” said Rosen when asked about the pivot to judges. “There is a lot of great bipartisan legislation out there ready to go to the floor – bills on education, veterans, and other things important to Nevadans.” 

“We should be spending the remaining legislative days in the year debating all of these issues and finding common ground,” she continued.

Her comments echoed those of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell of Kentucky was unapologetic about the fact that he had the Senate move to take up judicial nominations last week after Democrats, the previous week, refused to advance a spending package that included $694.9 billion for the Pentagon. The defense package failed to win the 60 votes needed to advance with both Cortez Masto and Rosen, as well as almost all Senate Democrats, voting against the bill.

“I am really beyond frustrated with our inability to get the defense bill up,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “So in the meantime, we’ll just keep processing lifetime appointments to the judiciary, I know the Democrats really love that.” 

Democrats opposed taking up the defense package over concerns that it would allow McConnell to substitute funding for Trump’s Southern border wall into the package. Democrats oppose funding the wall, which they have said would be ineffective.

Talks on spending were expected to resume next week when the House returns. Congress and the White House have until Nov. 21, when the current stopgap funding bill expires, to come to an agreement on how much to provide for the wall, which is the main stumbling block to finishing the annual appropriations process. 

But the House is expected to pass another short-term the week of Nov. 18. Both sides have said they want to avoid a government shutdown over the issue, similar to the funding lapse that was allowed to occur between late December into January of this year. The president had sought $8.6 billion, including $5 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, and another $3.6 billion would come from previously appropriated funds for military construction projects. 

“There definitely is concern about the money that was appropriated from our military across the country for a border wall,” Cortez Masto said.

DACA

Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments next week on whether the Trump administration can terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, both Cortez Masto and Rosen last week talked about the importance of DACA to Nevada.

Rosen noted that DACA recipients contribute to the economy and community. She also urged them to renew their status in the program as soon as possible. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “is still accepting applications,” she said.

DACA protects immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children, also known as DREAMers, from deportation and allows them to work and go to school. Trump sought to end the program in September 2017, but that was challenged in court. In June the Supreme Court said that it would hear three consolidated DACA cases. The program was established by the Obama administration in 2012. A decision is expected no later than June 2020.

There are 13,000 DACA recipients in Nevada and 700,000 nationwide. The case will decide whether they can stay in the U.S.

Cortez Masto, who also called on Nevada DACA recipients to renew their status in the program,  appeared in a video with Astrid Silva, a DREAmer from Nevada who started an immigrant rights group. In 2017, Silva gave the Democrats’ Spanish-language response to Trump’s first address to Congress.

In the video, the two talk briefly about the case and what’s at stake for the nation’s DREAMers and Astrid herself.

“Astrid and I are going to keep pushing to protect hard-working members or our communities from the cruel policies of this administration,” Cortez Masto concludes.   

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

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SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S. 2804 – A bill to promote conservation, improve public land management, and provide for sensible development in Pershing County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 2808 – A bill to amend the Act of June 18, 1934, to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes, and for other purposes.

S. 2797 – A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole into the United States certain relatives of current and former members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S. 2816 – A bill to ensure that fixed broadband internet access service assisted by any Federal broadband support program meets a minimum speed threshold.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 2804 – A bill to promote conservation, improve public land management, and provide for sensible development in Pershing County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

S. 2797 – A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole into the United States certain relatives of current and former members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 4928 – To establish the National Office of New Americans, to reduce obstacles to United States citizenship, to support the integration of immigrants and refugees into the social, cultural, economic and civic life of our shared Nation, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 4916 – To establish the National Office of New Americans, to reduce obstacles to United States citizenship, to support the integration of immigrants and refugees into the social, cultural, economic and civic life of our shared Nation, and for other purposes.