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US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell States Senate Has Enough Votes To Confirm Amy Coney Barrett As Supreme Court Justice

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(The Guardian) — The Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said he has the votes to confirm the nomination of conservative Amy Coney Barrett as a supreme court justice as the upper chamber’s judiciary committee scheduled a vote for 22 October to advance the nomination towards a full Senate ballot shortly after.

Barrett’s progression towards taking up the seat vacated by the death of the liberal favorite Ruth Bader Ginsburg now appears virtually assured, but the unprecedented nomination of a new justice so close to a presidential election – and one who will shift the balance of the court rightward – has been contentious.

Barrett raised alarm among Democrats at her confirmation hearings this week for taking an agnostic view on the legality of voter intimidation and on the question of whether a president might unilaterally delay an election, neither of which in the view of experts is a close legal call.

Barrett likewise declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any case that might reach the supreme court that could help decide the November election – though Donald Trump has made clear that one reason he wants her on the court is to help him prevail in such a scenario.

Democrats on the judiciary committee, who are in the minority and who signaled on Thursday that they were out of tools and tactics to stop the Barrett nomination from advancing, additionally expressed concern that Barrett refused to say whether she accepted the science of climate change. She also appeared poised to help vacate the Affordable Care Act and left open the possibility that the watershed Roe v Wade ruling protecting reproductive rights might be overturned.

But with a 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate, McConnell expressed optimism that his caucus would be able to overcome Democratic objections and make Barrett Trump’s third supreme court justice to be installed in just four years. The last president to install justices so quickly was Ronald Reagan, who saw three justices confirmed during his second term in the late 1980s.

“We have the votes,” McConnell told reporters.

Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have signaled that they would not back the Barrett nomination, out of concern that it fell too close to a presidential election.

But the rest of the Republicans have fallen in line, including those who objected to a Barack Obama nominee in March 2016 on the grounds that the nomination fell too close to an election being held eight months later.

“This goose appears to be cooked,” Senator Cory Booker, a Democratic member of the judiciary committee, said during deliberations on Thursday preceding witness testimony.

The increasing regularity with which supreme court confirmations were achieved under unusual circumstances pointed to the corrosive presence of outside influences that had hijacked the process for their own purposes, said committee member Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a Democrat.

Whitehouse said the refusal by the same committee to consider the Obama nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, and the subsequent refusal by the committee to credit substantial sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second nominee, pointed up the deterioration of the process.

He warned that a return to bipartisan comity on the question of future supreme court questions was difficult to envision.

“Republicans shouldn’t think that they will have any credibility if the shoe is on the other foot to come to Democrats and say, ‘Yeah, I know you can do that, but you shouldn’t’,” Whitehouse said.

“That credibility will die if they continue to proceed this way with this supreme court nomination.”

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Biden Expected To Repeal Military Trans Ban Tomorrow

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The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.

The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.

The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan. 

The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.

In 2014, it was estimated there were around 15,500 transgender military members serving, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Biden frequently repeated on the campaign trail his promise to repeal the ban.

Austin said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he planned to repeal the ban.

“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said on Tuesday when asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”

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Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President

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(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.

Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.

Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.

It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.

Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.

Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.

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California Governor Formally Appoints Alex Padilla To Fill US Senate Seat Vacated By Kamala Harris

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(CNN) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom formally submitted the appointment of Alex Padilla to the US Senate today, according to a press release from the governor’s office. 

Padilla formally resigned as Secretary of State this morning and Gov. Newsom also submitted his nomination letter for Assembly member Shirley Weber to replace him. The Deputy Secretary of State, James Schwab, will be the Acting Secretary of State.

“It is fitting that on the same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a civil rights icon who fought for justice and representation — we also move forward the appointment of California’s first Latino U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and the nomination of Dr. Shirley Weber who will serve as the first-ever African American Secretary of State. Both will be strong defenders of our democracy during this fragile moment in our nation’s history,” said Gov. Newsom.

“I am humbled and honored by your trust in me to represent California in the United States Senate. I look forward to continuing to serve the great State of California as a United States Senator and to ensuring that the rights and democratic principles we cherish are protected and preserved for all people,” Padilla wrote in a letter to Gov. Newsom.

Some context: Earlier today, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris formally resigned her seat as one of California’s US Senators. She’ll be inaugurated as vice president on Wednesday, Jan. 20. In a farewell addressed posted to Twitter, Harris said, “Of course, I’m not saying goodbye. In many ways, I’m now saying hello as your vice president.”

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