Tag: sotu
The Difficult Balancing Act Of Ketanji Brown Jackson

The Difficult Balancing Act Of Ketanji Brown Jackson

In a brief mention in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Joe Biden described his Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson as a “consensus builder” and touted her support from the Fraternal Order of Police, before moving on to other topics.

That was understandable in a time of war and division, overseas and closer to home. But that doesn’t mean that Jackson’s spot is guaranteed. As she makes the rounds this week, visiting with senators from both parties, it’s a reminder of the tightrope she must walk, the challenges she must overcome even as the rules in this high-stakes game keep changing.

As an African-American woman who has achieved much, she’s proved she is up to the task.

Understandably, many Black women in America celebrated when Biden fulfilled his campaign promise and nominated Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court. She would be the first Black woman on the nation’s highest court, though there have been many who were deserving, one of the most obvious being the first Black woman appointed to the federal bench, Constance Baker Motley, whose life and work are chronicled in the new book “Civil Rights Queen.”

Black women formed a strong part of the coalition that put Biden in the Oval Office and have been stalwart citizens throughout American history, on the forefront of human rights, civil rights and voting activism through icons such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height and Shirley Chisholm and so many others who never received the recognition they deserved.

I have a hunch that if former President Barack Obama had nominated Jackson, who reportedly was on his short list, instead of Merrick B. Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the court, her almost-certain dis by Senate Republicans, led by then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, would have triggered a groundswell that would have carried Hillary Clinton into the White House.

Jackson, then and now, would have to be prepared for whatever might come her way during confirmation hearings, set to start March 21 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She’s already been subjected to a grilling from Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn. During her hearing last year for her spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Cornyn asked: “What role does race play, Judge Jackson, in the kind of judge you have been and the kind of judge you will be?”

Instead of rolling her eyes and asking if he’d ever asked that of a white judge looking for his approval, Jackson calmly answered, “I don’t think that race plays a role in the kind of judge that I have been and that I would be in the way you asked that question.” She added: “I would say that my different professional background than many of the court of appeals judges, including my district court background, would bring value.”

Cornyn still voted against her.

If past is prologue, Jackson’s interrogation will resemble the treatment of Sonia Sotomayor — who was questioned on her temperament by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, giving credence to anonymous quotes calling her “excitable” (translation, “hot-blooded”) — and not that of Amy Coney Barrett, who was gushed over as a “role model for little girls” by Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas.

And then there’s Brett M. Kavanaugh, who — in a performance that launched a thousand memes — did everything short of bursting a vein as he raged his way through his hearing but was never in danger of being labeled an “angry black woman.”

Work hard, study hard, go to an Ivy League school, and good things — like a Supreme Court seat — will come to you. Well, if you’re Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and almost every other judge on the Court.

In the case of Jackson, nominated to fill the seat of Stephen G. Breyer, the justice for whom she clerked, Graham dismisses Harvard and Harvard Law with a snarky comment that the “Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated.” I do believe his votes have contributed to that train running for years.

But as many Black women have learned, those Ivy League bona fides, and more judicial experience than Roberts, Barrett, Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan had before they joined the court, won’t shield Jackson from the affirmative action label that’s already been tossed around.

What should be an asset — a background as a public defender and criminal defense attorney on a court pledged to treat all fairly — is framed as a liability by Republican lawmakers who should know that our justice system counts on the accused having representation. Is innocent until proven guilty still a thing? That’s something I might ask Sens. Cruz (Harvard Law), Josh Hawley (Yale Law) and John Kennedy (University of Virginia School of Law).

Isn’t following in the footsteps of the late icon Thurgood Marshall something to be admired? Jackson’s perceived balance might add needed perspective and burnish the reputation of a Supreme Court the American public increasingly sees as partisan.

Probably what’s most frustrating to many Black women watching this process play out so predictably is the flattening of Jackson as a complex and complete human being.

Njeri Mathis Rutledge, who, full disclosure, I know and work with, attended Harvard Law School with Jackson, and besides describing her as someone with “a next-level focus and drive” in a column in The Hill, wrote about Jackson as a person. “She had a big, beautiful smile and a joyful laugh. She was kind and down to earth. … Judge Jackson treats people with respect and is a good listener, which are crucial attributes to persuasion.”

All the warm and fuzzies that greeted adoptive mom Barrett during her elevation to the court may not be visited on someone at least as deserving and a role model for girls of all races, as well. I’d love to be proven wrong on that count.

Jackson has worked for justice, whether it’s by serving on a sentencing commission to reduce unfair disparities or being an advocate for those who truly needed her. Her own words, standing near the president who nominated her, give a hint to why she believes all that, and helping raise a lovely family, has been worthwhile.

After honoring Motley, with whom she shares a birthday, for “her steadfast and courageous commitment to equal justice under law,” Jackson said that, if confirmed, “I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution, and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded will inspire future generations of Americans.”

While I cannot predict how her hearings will proceed, of one thing I am sure. Jackson will more than live up to the expectations many Americans are placing on her shoulders.

A lot of pressure? Yes. But this accomplished Black woman, relatable to many walking that same tightrope, is used to it.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

Lauren Boebert Raising Money Off State Of The Union Outburst

Lauren Boebert Raising Money Off State Of The Union Outburst

Instead of apologizing for interrupting President Joe Biden while he was speaking about the death of his son and other veterans during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) is doubling down.

Boebert sent out a fundraising appeal to supporters, asking them to "donate today and help us ensure victory."

"When Biden talked about flag-draped coffins I couldn't help but call him out for causing the deaths of 13 brave members of our military who lost their lives because of his gross incompetence during the withdrawal from Afghanistan. We expected bad, but the #SOTU is worse than we ever could've imagined," Boebert wrote in the fundraising email.

During Biden's first State of the Union address, the freshman member of Congress cried out, "You put them there! Thirteen of them!" while Biden was detailing the horrors of toxic burn pits, which have been known to expose military service members to toxic materials that can lead to cancer.

The outburst, a reference to 13 service members who were killed by a suicide bomber last year in Afghanistan, came just as Biden began to mention the death of his son. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.

"They came home, many of the world's fittest and best-trained warriors in the world, never the same," Biden said. "Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin.

"I know. One of those soldiers was my son, Maj. Beau Biden. I don't know for sure if the burn pit that he lived near, that his hooch was near, in Iraq and, earlier than that, in Kosovo is the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops. But I'm committed to find out everything we can."

Boebert's heckling earned condemnation, though GOP leaders have largely remained silent.

"The president was talking about his dead soldier son. You and @RepMTG were a national disgrace tonight," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) tweeted. "But worse — because you are irrelevant — [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy owns all of this. He won't condemn you because he is a colossal coward."

"I agree with what Sen. Lindsey Graham said. Shut up. That's what he said to them. I think they should just shut up," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), said. The Republican from South Carolina was seen to mutter, "Shut up" in response to Boebert on Tuesday.

A handful of Republicans have gone further and publicly criticized Boebert for her behavior.

"I watched the #SOTU last night. There were issues I strongly agreed with. There were other issues I strongly disagree with. That's called independent thinking. ... But we can maybe all agree that Lauren Boebert is classless. An embarrassment to the House," tweeted former Virginia Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman.

Spokespeople for McCarthy (R-CA), House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), and Elise Stefanik (R-NY), chair of the House Republican Conference, did not respond to inquiries from the American Independent Foundation sent Wednesday.

For her part, Boebert continued to criticize Biden and trumpet her outburst, appearing on Fox News Wednesday and writing on Twitter Thursday morning: "13 brave and heroic members of our military died during Biden's botched Afghanistan withdrawal. They deserved to be recognized during the State of the Union speech so I made sure to speak up."

Biden pledged to improve health care for veterans during his address.

The White House released its plan Wednesday, promising to cover care for new rare respiratory cancers, expand access to care for veterans who suffered an environmental exposure, process more disability claims for exposures, and train Veterans Affairs providers to better treat them.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Audit Says Iowa Governor — Who Delivered Biden Rebuttal — Misused COVID Funds

Audit Says Iowa Governor — Who Delivered Biden Rebuttal — Misused COVID Funds

On Tuesday night, March 1, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gave the Republican Party rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address. Reynolds’ prominence in the GOP has grown, but in her state she is facing controversy over COVID-19 relief funds.

According to Associated Press reporter David Pitt, “Iowa's state auditor has again called for Gov. Kim Reynolds to return nearly $450,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds that were used to pay for 21 governor's office staff members for three months in 2020. Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, released a report Tuesday that repeated his recommendation from October 2020 and last year that the funds were improperly used and should be returned.”

Sand, according to Pitt, alleged that Reynolds misspent COVID-19 relief funds and tried to cover that up by passing the money through the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“After that report was released,” Pitt reports, “Sand said he finally received, in December, a 159-page packet of information he had sought repeatedly from the governor's office to justify use of federal pandemic emergency money for her staff's salaries. After reviewing the documentation, he said his recommendation to return the $448,448 remains the same.”

Pitt adds, “The governor’s staff salaries had already been considered in creating her budget prior to the pandemic, making them ineligible for payment out of the federal pandemic relief money, he said. Reynolds paid salaries for 21 staff members — including her spokesman, a lawyer, and her chief of staff — from March 15 to June 30, 2020, out of federal funds.”

Rich Delmar, deputy inspector general for the U.S. Treasury Department, said that Sand “will assess the adequacy and sufficiency of supporting documentation as part of its audit.”

“In December 2020,” Pitt notes, “Reynolds had to return $21 million in COVID-19 relief money after using it to upgrade an outdated state information technology system; U.S. Treasury officials determined the payments were not allowed expenditures under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.”

Reynolds, now 62, was serving as Iowa’s lieutenant governor in May 2017 when then-Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China under then-President Donald Trump. In the 2018 midterms, Reynolds won a full term as Iowa governor, defeating Democrat Fred Hubbell by almost three percent — and she is seeking reelection in 2022’s midterms.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Biden Message To Ukraine Evokes Rare Bipartisan Applause

Biden Message To Ukraine Evokes Rare Bipartisan Applause

President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address featured, in its opening minutes, something that’s been increasingly rare in recent years: sustained bipartisan applause. Republicans especially usually make a big show of booing and heckling Democratic presidents, but Biden’s address opened with remarks on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that united the parties in applause.

Vladimir Putin “badly miscalculated,” Biden said. “He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.” Biden went on to detail how “We spent months building a coalition of other freedom-loving nations from Europe and the Americas to Asia and Africa to confront Putin. I spent countless hours unifying our European allies. We shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was planning and precisely how he would try to falsely justify his aggression.” And he announced that the U.S. was closing its air space to Russia.

The rest of the State of the Union, of course, drew little Republican support and some of the now-traditional booing and heckling (including particularly obnoxious moments from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, who seemed to be trying to outdo each other), even as Biden made efforts to reach across the aisle at several points.

After the Trump years, Biden’s speech was a breath of fresh air not just in its basic coherence and decency but in its relative brevity: Where Trump’s speeches from 2018 to 2020 ranged from one hour and 18 minutes to one hour and 22 minutes, Biden spoke for just one minute over an hour. In that time, in addition to Russia-Ukraine, he addressed the economy and supply chain issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for infrastructure investment, plans to help U.S. families—though he did not use the words “Build Back Better”—police funding and reform, voting rights, his nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, gun law reform, and more. Many of these, it must be said, were very brief mentions.

Biden announced a number of plans his administration is putting into action, such as getting 60 million barrels of oil released from strategic reserves of countries around the world to minimize the impact of cutting off Russian supply; the Justice Department creating the position of chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud; a crackdown on ocean carriers that have exploited the pandemic to make record profits by “overcharging American businesses and consumers”; new, higher standards for nursing homes, set by Medicare; another round of free rapid home tests from covidtests.gov; and the Department of Veterans Affairs expanding eligibility to veterans with nine respiratory cancers.

He also hailed the major legislation already passed under his leadership: the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. “Unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefitted the top 1% of Americans, the American Rescue Plan helped working people—and left no one behind,” Biden said in one of the moments that drew loud boos from Republicans. “And it worked. It created jobs. Lots of jobs. In fact, our economy created over 6.5 million new jobs just last year, more jobs created in one year than ever before in the history of America.”

Biden moved from that to emphasizing (some might say overemphasizing) the bipartisan status of the infrastructure bill, though there was still one rhetorical shot fired when he said, “We’re done talking about infrastructure weeks. We’re going to have an infrastructure decade.”

We’ll build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, begin to replace poisonous lead pipes—so every child—and every American—has clean water to drink at home and at school, provide affordable high-speed internet for every American—urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities.
4,000 projects have already been announced.
And tonight, I’m announcing that this year we will start fixing over 65,000 miles of highway and 1,500 bridges in disrepair.

Biden also did his best to focus the ending sections of the State of the Union on bipartisanship, noting, “While it often appears that we never agree, that isn’t true. I signed 80 bipartisan bills into law last year,” before launching into a four-point Unity Agenda: beating the opioid epidemic, focusing on mental health, supporting veterans, and ending cancer as we know it.

Overall, it was an upbeat speech that acknowledged war and economic hardship and the pandemic but expressed the conviction that all of those could and would be overcome. Biden is not one of the greatest orators of our time, but he closed with a crescendo:

My fellow Americans—tonight, we have gathered in a sacred space—the citadel of our democracy.
In this Capitol, generation after generation, Americans have debated great questions amid great strife, and have done great things.
We have fought for freedom, expanded liberty, defeated totalitarianism and terror.
And built the strongest, freest, and most prosperous nation the world has ever known.
Now is the hour.
Our moment of responsibility.
Our test of resolve and conscience, of history itself.
It is in this moment that our character is formed. Our purpose is found. Our future is forged.
Well I know this nation.
We will meet the test.
To protect freedom and liberty, to expand fairness and opportunity.
We will save democracy.
As hard as these times have been, I am more optimistic about America today than I have been my whole life.
Because I see the future that is within our grasp.
Because I know there is simply nothing beyond our capacity.
We are the only nation on Earth that has always turned every crisis we have faced into an opportunity.
The only nation that can be defined by a single word:
So on this night, in our 245th year as a nation, I have come to report on the State of the Union.
And my report is this: The State of the Union is strong—because you, the American people, are strong.
We are stronger today than we were a year ago.
And we will be stronger a year from now than we are today.
Now is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time.
And we will, as one people.
One America.
The United States of America.
May God bless you all. May God protect our troops.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos