What to Know in Washington: Signs of Civility on Top Court Pick

  • Biden seeks nominee to win GOP votes; Cruz wants to avoid ‘smears’
  • Law enforcement in U.S. prepares for potential truck caravan protest

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President Joe Biden says he has done a “deep dive” on four potential Supreme Court nominees thus far and intends to choose one who won’t be “ideological” and can win votes from Senate Republicans.

So far, the president has dug in with “thorough background checks” on four candidates to look for anything that would disqualify them, he said in an interview yesterday with NBC News. He didn’t say whether the four people he’s studied make up part or all of his short list for the nomination.

Biden said he’s confident that any nomination he makes will be able to win Republican votes because “I’m not looking to make an ideological choice.” He’s looking to replace the retiring Stephen Breyer with someone who has “an open mind who understands the Constitution, interprets it in a way that is consistent with the mainstream interpretation of the Constitution.”

Biden met yesterday with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, while he and aides have been speaking with Senate Republicans about the process. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said yesterday he received a call from a White House legal counsel about the court vacancy. Two other GOP moderates who’ve been supportive of some of his lower court judicial nominees, Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), said last week that Biden called them personally to get their input, Laura Litvan and Jennifer Epstein report.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he plans to take a civil approach to Biden’s pick and avoid the “personal smears” that have defined previous court fights.

Cruz, a staunch opponent of Biden’s judicial nominees, said he and other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee agreed last week that they wouldn’t engage in the kind of personal attacks that marked the battle over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated in 2018 by President Donald Trump. “To a person, every Senate Republican agreed we don’t want to do that,” Cruz said in an interview with Bloomberg Government. “That’s not how this process should unfold.”

Cruz, however, made it clear that he could still find fault with the nominee as he accused Democrats of looking for a justice who will abolish the death penalty and curtail religious-freedom and gun-rights protections in the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution.

“I think this confirmation hearing is an important opportunity to focus on what the American people want in a justice,” Cruz said. Read more from Zach C. Cohen.

Photographer: Ken Cedeno/CNP/Bloomberg
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin and other Democrats on the panel spoke at the White House after a meeting with Biden on Thursday.

Also Happening on the Hill

CONGRESSIONAL AGENDA:

  • The House and Senate are both out today. The Senate returns Monday. The House returns the week of Feb. 28.

Two U.S. senators said the Central Intelligence Agency has been secretly collecting “bulk” information on American citizens without congressional oversight. The senators, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), expressed alarm in an April 13 letter to Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence and William Burns, the director of the CIA. The agency said the programs involved “counterterrorism intelligence-related activities” that operated under Executive Order 12333. It also announced that portions of reports on the programs were being declassified, according to a statement yesterday. Read more from Justin Sink and John Harney.

Lawmakers are competing to get their proposals to ban stock trading by members of Congress to the front of a lengthening lineup of legislation. Momentum for some restriction on trading by lawmakers has built rapidly over the last month and drawn the backing from progressives and conservatives alike. “The vast majority of voters know that it’s the right thing that needs to be done,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said. She joined a trio of other Democrats in introducing one proposal—in a crowded field in both chambers. Jarrell Dillard has more.

Biden’s State of the Union address will be delivered to a limited audience in the U.S. Capitol under similar pandemic-related restrictions as last year, according to an official familiar with the arrangements. Only about 200 people, fully masked, were allowed inside the House chamber when Biden delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress in April 2021. In addition to audience-size restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, security concerns in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection played a role in limiting attendance. Read more from Billy House.

Senate Republicans pressed the IRS to do more to help taxpayers in the current difficult filing season, including holding off on implementing much-criticized new disclosure requirements for partnerships. The current situation at the agency is “alarming” and “untenable,” with backlogs of millions of unprocessed tax returns, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and 29 other Republican senators said in a letter to Commissioner Charles Rettig and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Read more from Michael Rapoport.

Around the Administration

BIDEN’S SCHEDULE:

  • Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing at 2 p.m.
  • Biden departs Washington for Camp David at 3:15 p.m.

Law-enforcement agencies across the U.S. are bracing for a possible protest by truckers that could begin this weekend and carry into March, potentially including a cross-country caravan and disruptions to cities and major transportation routes. Although it’s still not clear how serious the threat is, the Department of Homeland Security warned law-enforcement agencies that protests could begin Sunday, when the Super Bowl is played in Los Angeles, and arrive in the nation’s capital in early March. Truckers could time their protests to coincide with Biden’s State of the Union Speech on March 1, according to a law enforcement alert. Read more from Sarah Kopit and Chris Strohm.

Biden said that easing coronavirus mask requirements was “probably premature, but it’s a tough call” while acknowledging that the pandemic has had “a profound impact on the psyche of the American people.” “But what I’ve tried to do, I’ve tried to make sure we have all the vaccines needed, all the boosters needed, all the masks needed, all the protection that’s needed,” Biden said in an interview with NBC News broadcast last night. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Jennifer Jacobs.

  • About 4,000 unvaccinated New York City employees, including police officers, teachers and firefighters, face termination today. Jobs are at risk for about 3,000 workers who took unpaid leave instead of getting vaccinated when the city’s mandate took effect in October, as well as about 1,000 recent hires who haven’t submitted documentation of their second shots. About 95% of the 370,000 city workers have received at least one dose, Alicia Diaz reports.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the world’s response to the Ukraine crisis was being watched by “others,” in a pointed reference to China’s expansive territorial claims in Asia. “Others are watching, others are looking to all of us to see how we respond,” Blinken told reporters today after meeting with the Quad foreign ministers in Melbourne. His comments come after China stepped up its military exercises around Taiwan in recent months, including record numbers of flybys around the island that the Communist Party considers a breakaway territory. Read more from Peter Martin and Ben Westcott.

  • Blinken also said today that “China has been acting more aggressively,” although he didn’t consider a conflict in the Indo-Pacific inevitable. “Nothing is inevitable,” Blinken said in response to a reporter’s question about the likelihood of a confrontation. “We share concerns that in recent years, China has been acting more aggressively at home and more aggressively in the region.” Read more from Ben Westcott and Peter Martin.

Some drivers of electric cars may be disappointed to learn they’ll have exit the highway if they rely on the Biden administration’s $5 billion for chargers. That’s because federal law limits commerce at interstate rest stops to only vending machines, lottery tickets, and tourism promotion. Officials announced plans to use money from the recent infrastructure law to build out a national network of electric car chargers, largely along interstate highways, to help EV adoption. But it didn’t lift a 1956 restriction on commercial activity at rest stops. Lillianna Byington has more.

Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana sued to block an executive order requiring federal contractors to raise their minimum wage to $15, following another GOP-led state coalition’s challenge to Biden’s attempt to boost worker pay. The state coalition said in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas that the president’s executive order is illegal and shows “little apparent regard for the widespread havoc on the economy that will result” from the wage boost. Read more from Erin Mulvaney.

Powerful economic currents are already pushing electric utilities toward clean energy even if the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a ruling that limits the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases, National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy said. Those trends could counterbalance a potential decision from the high court that the Environmental Protection Agency overreached in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in West Virginia v. EPA on Feb. 28. Stephen Lee has more.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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