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Democrats Gearing Up To Fight Trump’s Supreme Court Pick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said he will announce his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday as he looks to quickly put his stamp on the court by restoring its conservative majority, even as Democrats geared up for a Senate confirmation fight.

Trump, set to fill the lingering vacancy on the nation’s highest court left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, said he will reveal his choice at the White House at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, two days earlier than previously planned.

Three conservative U.S. appeals court judges appointed to the bench by Republican former President George W. Bush were among those under close consideration. They are: Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Thomas Hardiman, who serves on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and William Pryor, a judge on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Since Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court has been ideologically split with four conservatives and four liberals. Another conservative justice could be pivotal in cases involving abortion, gun, religious and transgender rights, the death penalty, and other contentious matters.

Trump’s appointee to the lifetime post will face stiff opposition from Democrats in the Republican-led U.S. Senate, which must confirm nominees to the high court. Some liberal groups have urged Democrats to do everything possible to block Trump’s nominee.

Democrats remain furious over Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal last year to allow the Senate to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination of appeals court Judge Merrick Garland for the vacant seat, an action with little precedent in U.S. history.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon vowed to pursue a procedural hurdle called a filibuster for Trump’s nominee, meaning 60 votes would be needed in the 100-seat Senate unless its long-standing rules are changed. Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, meaning some Democratic votes would be needed.

“This is the seat that Mitch McConnell and team have stolen from President Obama. I won’t be complicit in this theft,” Merkley said in a statement. “We need to fight this Constitution-shredding gambit with everything we’ve got.”

‘CAREFUL CONSIDERATION’

On the Senate floor, McConnell had words of warning for Democrats, saying senators should respect Trump’s election victory and give the nominee “careful consideration followed by an up-or-down vote,” not a filibuster.

Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, said last week he would favor Senate Republicans eliminating the filibuster, a move dubbed the “nuclear option,” for Supreme Court nominees if Democrats block his pick.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said of Democratic opposition: “It’s all about politics. It’s not about qualifications. The president has a right to have his nominees taken up.”

While not identifying the nominee, Spicer referred to the pick as “he” and said the selection came from the list of about 20 jurists recommended by conservative legal groups.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said this month it is hard to imagine Trump picking a nominee who Democrats could support, adding he would “absolutely” fight to keep the seat vacant rather than let the Senate confirm a nominee deemed to be outside the mainstream.

Gorsuch, 49; Hardiman, 54; and Pryor, 51, possess strong conservative credentials.

Gorsuch joined an opinion in 2013 saying that owners of private companies can object on religious grounds to a provision of the Obamacare health insurance law requiring employers to provide coverage for birth control for women.

Gorsuch’s mother headed the Environmental Protection Agency under Republican President Ronald Reagan before quitting under pressure in 1983.

Hardiman has embraced a broad interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s right to bear arms and has backed the right of schools to restrict student speech. Gun rights activists are eager for the Supreme Court to expand on a 2008 ruling that found for the first time that there is an individual right to bear arms for self-defense in the home.

Pryor has been an outspoken critic of the court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, calling it “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” Conservatives are hoping the high court will back restrictions imposed on the procedure by some Republican-governed states.

Last year, the Supreme Court issued its strongest endorsement of abortion rights in more than two decades, striking down a Texas abortion law imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities in a 5-3 ruling.

Pryor also joined a 2011 ruling favoring a transgender woman who said she was fired when she transitioned from male to female. The Supreme Court during its current term is due to decide a major transgender rights case for the first time. The justices have not yet heard arguments in the case, in which a Virginia public school district is fighting to prevent a female-born transgender high school student from using the boys’ bathroom.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Ayesha Rascoe, Lawrence Hurley and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump waits to speak by phone with the Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Democrats Demand Probe Of Trump’s Health Secretary Nominee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Democrats on Thursday demanded an ethics probe into Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for health secretary, following a report that the fierce Obamacare critic traded in healthcare company stock while pushing legislation in Congress that could affect those shares.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and others made their comments as congressional Republicans moved ahead with their long-desired effort to dismantle President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and signaled the vehemence with which Democrats will fight to protect the 2010 law.

Price is an orthopedic surgeon and a Republican congressman from Georgia who, if confirmed by the Senate as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), would be given the task of carrying out Trump’s promise to gut the law that has enabled upwards of 20 million previously uninsured Americans to obtain medical coverage.

The Democratic senators called on the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which looks into misconduct allegations involving House of Representatives members and staff, to investigate Price’s stock trades as a member of Congress.

The Wall Street Journal last month reported that Price bought and sold more than $300,000 in stock in about 40 healthcare, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that could influence those companies’ shares.

“Every American should be shocked by this,” Schumer told a news conference.

“We don’t know if he broke the law,” Schumer said of Price. “But there are certainly enough serious questions to warrant a serious investigation before any hearing is held on Congressman Price to become secretary of HHS.”

Price, asked by Reuters in a Capitol hallway what his response was to Schumer’s call for an ethics probe into his stock trades, replied: “We’re looking forward to a positive and productive confirmation hearing.”

Phil Blando, a Trump transition spokesman, said in a statement that Schumer’s demands were a “stunt” to deflect attention from Obamacare’s “dismal record.” He said the same questions being raised by Schumer about Price should be directed as well to other Democratic senators.

“Hypocrisy is apparently alive and well this morning in Washington,” Blando said.

An OCE spokeswoman declined to comment.

House Republicans moved on Monday to weaken the ethics office but backtracked a day later after criticism from Democrats and Trump.

A 2012 law prohibits members and employees of Congress from using “any nonpublic information” stemming from the person’s position or gained while performing their job for personal benefit.

“We want to know who he met with and when, whether the transactions in question were initiated by a broker or by Price himself, what, if any, nonpublic information Congressman Price had, when those transactions were made, and how much profit he made from each transaction,” Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate health committee that will consider Price’s nomination, said at the news conference with Schumer.

PUBLIC CITIZEN ALSO URGES PROBE

The nonpartisan consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen also asked the ethics office, as well as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, to investigate Price and another Republican congressman, Chris Collins of New York, for possible violations of insider trading and conflict-of-interest laws and rules.

Collins serves as the Trump transition team’s congressional liaison. His office had no immediate comment.

Trump on Thursday kept up his attacks on Democrats and the Obamacare law while calling for a bipartisan congressional effort to come up with a healthcare alternative that would lower costs and improve care. Republicans will control the White House and both chambers of Congress when Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

In a series of posts on Twitter, Trump blasted Schumer and his fellow Democrats over Obamacare. Taunting Schumer as “head clown,” Trump said on Twitter that Democrats are doing “the typical political thing” and casting blame.

“It is time for Republicans & Democrats to get together and come up with a healthcare plan that really works – much less expensive & FAR BETTER!” Trump wrote.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said he expects the legislative work on repealing and replacing Obamacare to be done this year. “What date all of this gets phased in on is something we do not now know,” Ryan added.

Republicans criticize Obamacare – one of Obama’s signature accomplishments in his eight years in office – as an excessive government intrusion into the healthcare market and contend it is harming job growth by burdening businesses. Republican lawmakers have a number of proposals for replacing it, but not a consensus plan.

Obama met with Democrats on Capitol Hill on Wednesday as they crafted a strategy that appeared aimed at warning that the entire U.S. healthcare system would be thrown into disarray if the Obamacare law is repealed without a plan to replace it.

(Additional reporting by Rick Cowan and David Alexander; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) hands the pen to Representative Tom Price (R-GA) (L) after signing a bill repealing Obamacare at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst