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Trump’s pick for labor secretary questioned gay rights in 1985 article

Eugene Scalia attends his confirmation hearing to become the next U.S. Labor Secretary in front of the the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on September 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

Senators ask son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia about past opposition to LGBTQ equality

WASHINGTON — When Eugene Scalia was a fourth-year English major at the University of Virginia in 1985, he penned an article for the student paper about gay rights.

In it, he referred to a lesbian couple that had visited the university, “the proud parents of a daughter fathered by a homosexual acquaintance.”

He went on, “Now I do not suggest that we all conform to a particular lifestyle, but this arrangement, for one, is in conflict with the fundamental organization of our society: I do not think that we should treat it as equally acceptable or desirable as the traditional family life.”

He concluded: “I am not sure how I stand on the basic issue of gay rights.”

Scalia, who is now President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Labor, was grilled on the article Thursday during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate.

“My worry is that your views have not necessarily matured as the country’s have,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told him.

Scalia stressed that he was in college when the article was written, and that he “wouldn’t write those words today.” That’s in part, he said, because “I now have friends and colleagues to whom they would cause pain and I would not want to do that.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) pressed Scalia further on the article, asking Scalia whether he now believes that LGBTQ Americans are entitled to equal protections under the law.

“That is what the Supreme Court ordained,” Scalia responded, but Kaine pressed him for his personal views. Scalia then said he does personally believe that LGBTQ Americans are entitled to equal protections under the law.

The nominee also said he believes it’s wrong for an employer to terminate someone based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Scalia — the son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — has worked as a corporate lawyer and also served as the Labor Department’s top attorney during the George W. Bush administration.

Democrats on the committee slammed his previous work for big corporations, questioning whether he was an appropriate nominee to carry out the Labor Department’s mission.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said he’s “skeptical” of the nomination based on Scalia’s record.

The top Democrat on the Senate committee charged with vetting Scalia, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said he would be better suited to be a “secretary of corporate interests.” She said Scalia’s career has shown “hostility to the very workers he would be charged with protecting.”

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin told Scalia,“Your history and record on worker safety is of concern to me and is not what I’d be looking for in our next secretary of labor.”

She pointed specifically to his previous work defending UPS against claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and his representation of Sea World after a killer whale attacked and killed a trainer.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee — said he was concerned that Scalia was being unfairly criticized for his work as a corporate lawyer.

“Everyone is entitled to a fair hearing and very effective advocacy,” Alexander said.

“I am not necessarily my clients,” Scalia told senators. “I will seek to defend them, to vindicate their rights, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily think that what they did was proper.”

If confirmed, Scalia would replace former Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who resigned earlier this year amid controversy over his role in securing a plea deal for the late Florida financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the States Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

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U.S. House Democrats advance Trump impeachment investigation

President Trump waves as he prepares to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. | Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian, Flickr

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats edged closer to Thursday to launching formal impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-17 along party lines to adopt a resolution laying out procedures for an impeachment investigation in the committee.

The vote came after two hours of heated debate over Democrats’ motivations. The committee’s Democratic leadership insisted lawmakers are moving cautiously and responsibly before deciding whether to formally recommend articles of impeachment.

“This committee is engaged in an investigation that will allow us to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Trump,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Nadler stressed that the committee’s investigation will go beyond charges that Trump obstructed justice during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. Democrats also intend to investigate allegations of “federal election crimes, self dealing, violations of the constitution’s emoluments clause and a failure to defend our nation from current and future attacks by foreign adversaries,” Nadler said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)

More than half of the U.S. House Democrats have said they support moving ahead with a formal impeachment inquiry, according to a New York Times review. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash was the lone House Republican to endorse an impeachment inquiry, but he left the GOP in July, declaring himself an independent.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee accused their colleagues of tip-toeing around launching impeachment proceedings, an issue that divides the Democratic caucus and that some moderate members fear could hurt the party’s messaging heading into 2020.

Committee Democrats shrugged off their colleagues’ criticisms about semantics and procedure.

“Yes, we are in an impeachment investigation,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.). “Have you not been reading the proceedings? I don’t think there’s a question. It’s an investigation.”

Some have labeled the process an impeachment inquiry; others call it an impeachment investigation. “There’s no legal difference between these terms and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature,” Nadler said.

“The conduct under investigation poses a threat to our democracy. We have an obligation to respond to this threat and we are doing so.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the States Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News, Trump Administration

Mueller to Congress: Report doesn’t exonerate Trump

Robert Mueller (Photo by Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Former special counsel Robert Mueller told lawmakers Wednesday that his investigation did not “completely and totally exonerate” President Trump of obstructing justice, contrary to what the president has claimed.

In the first of two back-to-back appearances before U.S. House committees, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, kicked off questioning Wednesday morning by pressing Mueller on Trump’s claims.

“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice,” Nadler said. Mueller replied, “That is correct.”

Nadler continued, “And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Mueller responded, “No.”

The report, Nadler went on, “expressly states that it does not exonerate the president.” Mueller said, “It does.”

Just before the hearing kicked off, Trump made his latest declaration on Twitter that the report found “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!”

Little new information was revealed during Wednesday’s hearings, as the famously scripted Mueller largely stuck to the findings of his report, and repeatedly refused to answer lawmakers’ speculative questions. But Democrats and Republicans alike on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees sought to use the closely watched hearings to gain political leverage — Democrats by asking Mueller to confirm portions of his 448-page report into Russian election interference, and Republicans by attacking Democrats’ motives and the integrity of Mueller’s team.

“For people who have read the Mueller report or followed these issues, this hearing was not surprising,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “For people who did not, this should have blown their minds, because they saw for the first time Robert Mueller saying yes to multiple instances of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.”  Read more

News, Trump Administration

U.S. House quashes effort to consider impeachment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday refused to consider impeachment articles against President Trump, with most Democrats siding with Republicans to kill the effort.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) attempted to use a procedural mechanism on the House floor to prod his colleagues to vote on his impeachment resolution stating that Trump “is unfit to be President and warrants impeachment, trial, and removal from office.”

But the House voted 332-95 in favor of a “motion to table” the effort, effectively killing the resolution. Only 95 Democrats supported Greens’ effort, with 137 Democrats joining 194 Republicans and Michigan independent Justin Amash to table the resolution.

North Carolina’s three Democrats split on the matter. David Price voted for the motion to table, while G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams voted against it. All 10 Republicans from the state voted “aye,” except for Mark Walker, who did not vote.

It comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats have urged the caucus to tread slowly on impeachment efforts. Even many of the Democrats who back an impeachment “inquiry” — a first step toward a floor vote on impeachment — say they want to spend time building a solid record against Trump in the House Judiciary Committee.

Green’s resolution specifically condemned Trump for his recent racist comments after the president told four Democratic members of Congress to “go back” to other countries.

Wednesday’s vote is expected to intensify the debate between the Democratic lawmakers who are anxious to move on impeachment and those — including some moderates who flipped Republian seats in November — who are wary of political pitfalls.

Trump derided impeachment supporters after the vote.

“The United States House of Representatives has just overwhelmingly voted to kill the Resolution on Impeachment, 332-95-1. This is perhaps the most ridiculous and time consuming project I have ever had to work on,” he wrote on Twitter. “This should never be allowed to happen to another President of the United States again!”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief of the States Newsroom Network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News

PW exclusive: Neither Burr nor Tillis is calling for Acosta resignation

Sec. of Labor Alexander Acosta

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers across Capitol Hill are stepping up calls for the immediate resignation of embattled Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta over his role in prosecuting a sexual abuse scandal more than a decade ago.

North Carolina Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis aren’t among them.

Acosta, a former federal prosecutor, is facing mounting pressure to step down this week after wealthy hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on Saturday and charged with sex trafficking amid accusations that he repeatedly abused underage girls. The accusations were detailed at length in an investigative series published last year by the Miami Herald.

As a U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta signed off in 2007 on what critics label a sweetheart deal. The agreement allowed Epstein to avoid federal prosecution and to serve 13 months in jail rather than potentially facing life in prison.

Asked whether Acosta ought to resign in light of his role in the plea deal, Burr said Wednesday, “That’s up to the administration.”

Tillis said in a brief interview, “I haven’t read the specifics. All I’ve seen is what’s reported, so I don’t know what the circumstances were of the agreement.”

Asked about Epstein, Tillis said, “He needs to go to jail for the rest of his life and I think that he will.”

Richard Burr

Thom Tillis

Both Burr and Tillis voted to confirm Acosta as President Trump’s labor secretary in 2017.

Other lawmakers — including top Democrats in both chambers of Congress — have issued pointed calls for Acosta’s resignation.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Acosta chose to let a “serial sex trafficker of children” off easy. “This is not acceptable,” Schumer added on the Senate floor. “We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America someone who has done this, plain and simple.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote on Twitter that Acosta “must step down. As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement [with] Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice.”

North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams (D-12th) also called for his resignation in a statement issued Wednesday: Read more