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Republican Sandoval Withdraws As Possible Supreme Court Pick

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a moderate Republican, took himself out of consideration for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday as Senate Republicans dug in on their vow not to act on any nominee by President Barack Obama.

Asked if the White House was disappointed by Sandoval’s decision, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, “He’s obviously entitled to make decisions about his own career.”

Sandoval’s name surfaced as a possible nominee on Wednesday but Senate Republicans quickly said they still would not hold hearings or vote on any Obama nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Obama’s appointee could pivot the court to the left for the first time in decades.

Sandoval, a Mexican-American who was Nevada’s first Hispanic governor, did not offer a reason for his withdrawal.

“Earlier today, I notified the White House that I do not wish to be considered at this time for possible nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States,” he said in a statement.

“The notion of being considered for a seat on the highest court in the land is beyond humbling and I am incredibly grateful to have been mentioned.”

Earlier on Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed concern about Sandoval, urging Obama to pick a “true progressive.” But Nancy Pelosi, the top House of Representatives Democrat, called it a “good idea” for Obama to consider Republicans as well as Democrats.

Obama will convene a meeting next Tuesday with Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and its Judiciary Committee to discuss a court nominee, Earnest said. The Republican-led Senate must confirm any nominee.

Sandoval, 52, was appointed a judge by Republican President George W. Bush before becoming governor in 2010. He took a traditional Republican stance backing gun rights but held more moderate views on social issues, supporting abortion rights.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley on Thursday reiterated that the Senate would not act on any Supreme Court nominee until the next president takes office in January 2017, following the Nov. 8 presidential election. Republicans hope to win back the White House then.

The fight over the Scalia vacancy got nastier as Grassley went to the Senate floor to accuse Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of “childish tantrums” after Reid called Grassley the most obstructionist judiciary chairman ever.

Reid responded: “A childish tantrum, when we’re asking him to do his job?”

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Richard Cowan, Ginger Gibson and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Trott)

Photo: Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval in Las Vegas, May 9, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Obama Weighs Republican Nevada Governor For Supreme Court

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican and former federal judge, is among candidates being considered by President Barack Obama for appointment to the Supreme Court, a source close to the process said on Wednesday, as Obama sought to overcome Senate Republican resistance to any nominee.

Sandoval, a 52-year-old Mexican-American, is considered a moderate Republican, particularly on social issues. He supports abortion rights and abandoned the state’s legal defense of a same-sex marriage ban before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such bans were unconstitutional.

Sandoval has supported gun rights as governor, which could prompt concerns from gun-control advocates. He was appointed as a federal judge by Republican George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor, before being elected governor in 2010.

An intense political fight has erupted since the Feb. 13 death of long-serving conservative Justice Antonin Scalia created an opening on the Supreme Court bench. Republicans are maneuvering to foil Obama’s ability to choose a replacement who could tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades.

The Republican-led Senate must confirm any high court nominee and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that the chamber will not hold hearings or vote on any Supreme Court nominee until after the next president takes office in January.

Sandoval met on Monday in the U.S. Capitol for about 30 minutes with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid asked the governor whether he would be interested in being considered for the high court job, according to the source, who asked not to be identified.

“He said he was interested,” the source said of Sandoval, adding that “a number of people are being checked out” for the job.

Sandoval, who was in Washington for a National Governors’ Association meeting, also spoke to Reid by telephone last week, the source said.

Sandoval opposed Obama’s healthcare law known as Obamacare, but opted to expand his state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the poor under the law, breaking from a number of Republican governors who refused to do so.

    He also expressed support for bipartisan immigration legislation that passed the Senate in 2013 before dying in the House thanks to Republican opposition.

In 2013, Sandoval vetoed legislation to require background checks on all gun sales in Nevada. Last year, he signed a law backed by the National Rifle Association that, among other things, expanded the defenses for justifiable homicide and repealed a local ordinance in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, that required registration of handguns.

‘WORTHY TO SIT’

Obama vowed on Wednesday to move ahead with a nominee and said Republicans would risk public ire if they blocked a qualified candidate for political motives, as well as diminishing the credibility of the high court.

Obama said he expected the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend his nominee the courtesy of a hearing and then vote on whether he or she is qualified.

“In the meantime, the American people are going to have the ability to gauge whether the person I’ve nominated is well within the mainstream, is a good jurist, is somebody who’s worthy to sit on the Supreme Court,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.

“I think it will be very difficult for Mr. McConnell to explain how, if the public concludes that this person’s very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons.”

The president said he understood the political predicament Republicans faced and said he had expressed sympathy in calls to their leaders. He said they were sheepish in their arguments that a nominee should not be confirmed until next year and predicted their posture would change.

“I think the situation may evolve over time. I don’t expect Mitch McConnell to say that is the case today,” he said.

In a post on the independent SCOTUSblog.com website, Obama listed his criteria for a nominee including “an independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials and a record of excellence and integrity.”

Liberals vowed to pressure Senate Republicans into considering an Obama nomination this year, with several groups delivering to the Senate boxes of what they said contained 1.3 million signatures from citizens demanding that a confirmation process go forward after the president announces his pick.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Republicans “are giving a middle finger to the American people and they are giving a middle finger to this president.”

The U.S. presidential election is set for Nov. 8 and Republicans want the next president to fill Scalia’s vacancy, hoping a Republican will be elected.

Scalia’s death left the court with four liberals and four conservatives, with Obama’s nominee positioned to change the court’s ideological balance.

Obama already has appointed two Supreme Court justices during his seven years as president. The Senate confirmed his prior two nominees, Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. The Senate was controlled by Obama’s fellow Democrats at the time.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Lawrence Hurley and Joseph Ax; Writing by Will Dunham and Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Trott)

Photo: Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV), official photograph.

Tax Increases Much-Regretted Necessity For Republican Governors

By Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Republican governors meeting in Washington this weekend said financial conditions in their states have deteriorated so much that they must raise taxes, even if it means crossing their own party.

In the face of a historical antipathy deepened by the Tea Party movement, chief executives in Alabama, Nevada and Michigan among other states are proposing increases this year to address shortfalls or to spend more on faltering schools and infrastructure. They advocate higher levies on businesses, tobacco, alcohol and gasoline, in some cases casting the increases as user fees.

The governors are at a crossroads. They are choosing between the path of Governor Sam Brownback in Kansas, who has refused to change course even after tax cuts provoked furious opposition, and that of Alabama’s Robert Bentley, who has said the state’s perennially precarious budget has reached the breaking point.

“I don’t want to raise taxes, but I also know that we need to pay our debts,” Bentley said in an interview. “We don’t have any choice.”

Governors in about ten states, many led by Republicans, are proposing increases this year, said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies for the National Association of State Budget Officers in Washington. Several plans involve raising fuel taxes to pay for crumbling roads and bridges, while Republicans including John Kasich in Ohio and Maine’s Paul LePage want higher sales or other levies to offset income-tax cuts. The burden of such taxes falls more heavily on the poor, who spend a larger proportion of their income.

In Nevada, two-term Republican Governor Brian Sandoval has proposed $1.1 billion in new or continued business, tobacco and other taxes to pay for education and initiatives such as expanding full-day kindergarten.

He said he has no choice with a shortfall caused by declining mining and gambling revenue, as well as a need to spend more on an education system that has the worst high-school graduation rate in the U.S.

His proposal has drawn opposition from Republican officials such as Treasurer Dan Schwartz, who said voters rejected two similar proposals in November and that Sandoval has “divorced” himself from state Republicans.

Sandoval said there are Republicans who support his plan, and that business leaders want better-educated workers.

“I knew going in that I was going to receive criticism,” Sandoval said in an interview. “That’s why it’s important for me to explain the ‘why,’ and the ‘why’ is to improve education in Nevada.”

Alabama’s Bentley, a two-term Republican, said he spent four years cutting spending, improving efficiency and making government smaller. Now, more revenue is needed to deliver services and deal with a long-building budget deficit of about $265 million that could reach $700 million by the fiscal year that begins in October.

Bentley said that while he’s still formulating his plan, it won’t involve gambling revenue and will include multiple taxes that the Republican-controlled legislature can approve.

Alabama has a history of opposing tax increases and rejected former Republican Governor Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion plan in 2003. Bentley said he expects backlash this time as well.

“But we’re going to do it with boldness, and this is something that we must do,” he said.

States are feeling pressure to pay for projects and services cut or delayed during the recession that ended in June 2009 and the sluggish recovery, said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, which analyzes how fiscal decisions affect the poor.

“Governors of both political parties are faced with those neglected investments,” Leachman said.

The prospects for enacting the proposals are unclear, especially after Republicans extended control of legislatures to 31 states in last year’s elections and now have majorities in a record 69 of 99 chambers.

In Ohio, Republican lawmakers have said that while they welcome Kasich’s plan to cut income taxes, they oppose “tax shifting” to do it.

An exception may be efforts to raise fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure. The purchasing power of levies that haven’t increased in years has declined, roads and bridges are visibly deteriorating, federal funding is uncertain and the political climate may be more forgiving thanks to cheaper gasoline.

More than a dozen states, many with Republican governors, appear poised to increase transportation revenue this year, said Sean Slone, program manager for transportation policy at the Council of State Governments in Lexington, Kentucky.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad in Iowa said he’s not raising taxes. Rather, he’s backing a higher “user fee” to address a $215 million shortfall in annual transportation funding without borrowing, he said.

“I’m an anti-tax person as well,” Branstad said. “People who get the benefits of the roads should pay for it.”

Other Republicans at the National Governors Association meeting held the traditional ground that raising taxes shouldn’t be an option.

“This economy is in a delicate state, and the last thing it needs is higher taxes,” said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

The White House ambitions of Republican governors including Chris Christie in New Jersey and Scott Walker in Wisconsin may make raising taxes a gamble no matter what the state’s financial condition.

Christie has put a Democrat in charge of transportation spending and said he was open to all options for replenishing a road fund that has gone dry. He didn’t mention the crisis in a speech last week that railed against taxes.

Walker has ignored proposals from his transportation secretary to raise taxes and fees in favor of borrowing $1.3 billion. He also has said he will skip more than $100 million in debt payments to address a $283 million deficit after tax cuts.

In Kansas, Brownback is slowing his push to eliminate the income levy and calling for higher tobacco and liquor taxes because the state faces a $280 million shortfall after previous tax cuts produced greater revenue losses than anticipated. Still, he has said that the state will stay the course.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, raised taxes to help close a $3.6 billion deficit after taking office in January 2011 and was criticized by Christie and other Republicans for doing so.

Malloy said that while he chafed at the barbs, he’s not celebrating now that some Republicans are in position of having to raise levies.

“In a super-politicized environment — and certainly we have suffered in one of those during this post Great Recession period — some people thought it would never happen to them,” Malloy said in an interview. “They were wrong.”
___
With assistance from Terrence Dopp in Washington.

Photo: Governor Beshear via Flickr

Republicans Fear 2010 Redux In Nevada Senate Race

By Alexis Levinson, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Nevada Republicans worry their efforts to oust Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in 2016 could be thwarted again by a crowded GOP primary.

In 2010, Republicans nominated one of their weakest candidates in the primary, Sharron Angle, from a large field of challengers to face Reid. In a banner year for the GOP across the country, Reid won re-election by a handful of points — and now Republicans are anxious history could repeat itself in 2016.

“We just need to take control of our primaries and make sure that doesn’t happen this time,” Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) recently told CQ Roll Call in the Capitol. “Yeah, I’m always concerned with that.”

Heller’s House colleagues echoed that sentiment.

“Always concerned with that situation,” said freshman Rep. Crescent Hardy (R-NV). “We sometimes are our own worst enemy.”

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) was one of those many candidates who wanted to challenge Reid in 2010, but he dropped out after six months. He later sought election to the House.

“I mean, just based on the most recent experience, it didn’t have a positive result if you’re looking for a Republican in the seat,” said Amodei recently outside the House floor.

Reid tops the GOP’s target list for 2016, when the party has little opportunity to play offense because most of the incumbents up for re-election are Republicans. Democrats must win a net of five Senate seats to ensure control of the chamber this cycle.

The GOP’s top choice for the seat is Governor Brian Sandoval. Republicans believe the popular Latino pol could easily defeat Reid.

“He certainly would be our A plus candidate,” said Heller, a vice chairman of the NRSC.

Here’s the problem: Nevada Republicans don’t believe he is going to run.

“I certainly don’t speak for the governor, but if you said, ‘Well, is he gonna run or not?’ my opinion would be no, he’s not,” said Amodei. “I think he likes being governor. I think he wants to finish that.”

Several other Republicans interviewed by CQ Roll Call agreed with Amodei. But without Sandoval in the race, the primary floodgates would open.

“I think a lot of people feel like they can beat Harry Reid,” said Nevada Republican consultant Robert Uithoven. “They want to be the one to topple Harry Reid.”

Nevada Republicans mentioned a number of names: Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, former state Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, and former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who has said he is open to a run. The only candidate who has announced a bid so far is Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers.

The state’s three Republican congressmen have ruled out running in interviews with CQ Roll Call. But any one of them could change their minds. Just ask Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), who ruled out a Senate bid for months before jumping into the race _ and winning.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Andrea Bozek said Republicans “are going to do to Harry Reid what Democrats tried to do to Sen. McConnell. The difference is we are going to win and send Harry Reid into retirement.”

Some Nevada operative speculated the NRSC could convince one of the congressman to have similar change of heart if Sandoval opts to stay out. The most likely target is Heck, a strong fundraiser who boasts a geographical advantage living in the populous southern part of the state.

But few Republicans believe anyone can clear the field except Sandoval. And without a prohibitive favorite, the field could grow.

“If there’s not somebody that’s seen as potentially someone who can gather a lot of the support behind him, that probably augurs in favor of a lot of people going, ‘Well heck. I think I’ve got a shot,'” Amodei said.

Heller said he supported the opportunity for anyone who wanted to run to do so, but he did not rule out endorsing in a multi-candidate primary.

“That doesn’t mean that myself, the governor and others may have a preferred candidate and that we wouldn’t get involved,” Heller said.

The field probably won’t form before June, when the legislative session ends. Sandoval proposed a tax increase – the largest in Nevada’s history – to pay for education reform. That proposal has raised some eyebrows in Sandoval’s own party, and the subsequent debate, plus the legislature’s other business, will keep Sandoval, Roberson, and Hutchison occupied for the next few months.

Some Nevada Republicans remain unconvinced Reid will actually run for a sixth term. Reid has said repeatedly that he intends to run, which his office confirmed again Tuesday to CQ Roll Call.

But some operatives remain skeptical. Reid began the year with just $1.5 million cash on hand, less than half of the amount he had in the bank at the start of the 2010 cycle. The Senate minority leader’s bandaged face serves as a visible reminder of outside factors that could change his mind.

If that happened, Democratic operatives mentioned Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, or former Secretary of State Ross Miller as top recruits.

For now, Republican operatives are recruiting candidates to face Reid and his vaunted state campaign operation.
Asked if Democrats might try to play a role in deciding the winner of a Republican primary, as they did in 2010, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Communications Director Justin Barasky did not rule it out.

“I know Reid’s team and the DSCC will do whatever it takes to ensure he’s re-elected, and that means keeping your options open,” he told CQ Roll Call.

AFP Photo/Alex Wong