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Sounds like Trump's Supreme Court pick passed the flattery test

President Donald Trump listens as Judge Brett Kavanaugh,

President Donald Trump listens as Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his Supreme Court nominee, speaks at the White House on Monday. Photo Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

How Kavanaugh clicks with Trump

The finalists were all conservatives, all now judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Only Donald Trump knows for sure why he decided on Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. But it was understood going in that personal chemistry would be a factor, so perhaps Kavanaugh knew a key ingredient in the formula: Praise Trump.

"Throughout this process, I have witnessed firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary," he told Trump after being introduced. That could be rated true, on a technicality. Though Trump railed against the “Mexican” judge handling the fraud lawsuit against Trump University or one of the “so-called” judges who dealt him a setback on the first version of the travel ban, those incidents were outside the "process" of choosing a Supreme Court nominee. As for “appreciation,” it depends on which definition.

Trump's attacks on judges were so over the top that his first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, had to reassure senators at his confirmation hearing last year that he would stand up for the principle of an "independent judiciary."

If there was any surprise about Trump's new choice, it’s that he didn’t hold it against Kavanaugh — as some hard-right critics did — that he served in former President George W. Bush’s White House, first in the counsel’s office and then as staff secretary.

"President Trump has made an outstanding decision,” said Bush, who first picked Kavanaugh for the federal bench. After all, it was the Bushes – father and son, both reviled by Trump – who chose two justices who are now veteran bulwarks of the court’s right flank: Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

“I predict that he would be a rock-solid conservative in the Alito-Thomas mold,” said Justin Walker, a University of Louisville law professor who worked as law clerk for both Kavanaugh and retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been a reliable vote for the Trump administration on major issues that have come before the court.

For more on the Supreme Court story, see Newsday's report from Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Any hazards in bio?

Trump chose one of the more experienced judges on his short list, a so-called “steady insider” with a lengthy background in the courts and Washington politics, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy.

Kavanaugh, 53, graduated from Yale Law School and has been a federal judge since 2006. ScotusBlog, a website that tracks the Supreme Court, said: “Perhaps because of his years of executive-branch experience, Kavanaugh generally brings a pragmatic approach to judging, although his judicial philosophy is conservative.”

One intriguing part of his record, given that the Russia investigation and the possibility that legal battles between Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller could end up before the high court: Kavanaugh helped investigate President Bill Clinton as part of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s team during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But since then, Kavanaugh has expressed regrets in a way that Trump could find pleasing. He wrote in a 2009 legal article that presidents should be exempt from “time-consuming and distracting” lawsuits and investigations. The “indictment and trial of a sitting President,” he opined, would “cripple the federal government.”

Battle lines formed

During Trump's final deliberations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed concern that Kavanaugh's lengthy public record  would give opponents more to try to pick apart. 

But McConnell praised Kavanaugh as a “superb choice. ... His judicial record demonstrates a firm understanding of the role of a judge in our Republic: setting aside personal views and political preferences in order to interpret our laws as they are written.”

McConnell's counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said Kavanaugh was a threat to roll back abortion rights and further erode Obamacare.

“Judge Kavanaugh’s own writings make clear that he would rule against reproductive rights and freedoms, and that he would welcome challenges to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act,” Schumer said.

With the slim Republican Senate majority, Kavanaugh's fate will likely  rest with a pair of  GOP moderates who favor abortion rights, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and a handful of red-state Democrats the White House will try to peel off.

See David M. Schwartz's story for Newsday.

Judge for yourself

Click here for video of Trump's announcement and Kavanaugh's remarks.

Truth and Cohen-sequences

During his tour of the Sunday talk shows, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he had no worries about what ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen might tell federal prosecutors investigating him to cut himself a deal. "As long as" Cohen "tells the truth, we're home free," Giuliani said.

Cohen’s new lawyer, Lanny Davis hinted: Maybe they should worry. “Trump/Giuliani next to the word 'truth' = oxymoron. Stay tuned. #thetruthmatters," said a Davis tweet Monday morning. A more explicit warning to Giuliani came from what CNN described as sources with knowledge of Cohen's thinking: "The truth is not you(r) or your client's friend." 

Giuliani pushed back at Davis’ work spinning for Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal. Davis "had to know Clinton was lying,” Giuliani texted to Business Insider. “I like Michael, but I don't get hiring a flak caught lying in the past as a 'lawyer'?????”

Count his fingers

Is Trump worrying that his vague agreement with North Korea to pursue a nuclear arms deal is looking shaky? Trump tweeted that he still has “confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake."

The deal, Trump said, was "We agreed to the denuclearization of North Korea.”

And if it goes bad, Trump has a suspect. “China, on the other hand, may be exerting negative pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade — Hope Not!”

North Korea accused the U.S. of making “gangster-like” demands during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Pyongyang. Pompeo played down the tensions Monday, saying, "There's many hours left in negotiations."

Sushi served extra raw

They don't just get hounded from restaurants. The public faces of the Trump administration are facing taunts and insults from strangers incensed over their policies in a variety of public places and outside their homes.

Among previously unreported incidents compiled by The Washington Post: Stephen Miller, an architect of the immigration crackdown, was followed out of a restaurant near his apartment by a bartender who flipped the bird at him with each hand and cursed at him. Outraged, Miller responded by throwing away his $80 order of takeout sushi.

Kellyanne Conway shrugged off being told she should be"ashamed of yourself" by a man who rushed by her in a supermarket. “What am I gonna do? Fall apart in the canned vegetable aisle?” Overhearing a man mumbling snark about her at a baseball game, Conway said she walked over and told him: “I’m fluent in ignoramus. What did you say?” 

What else is happening:

  • Trump invited three red-state Democrats up for re-election to the White House for his Supreme Court announcement, part of a push for their confirmation votes. All three — Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — declined, ABC News reported. So did Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama.
  • Two months ago, Trump announced that “massive, voluntary” price cuts from drugmakers would be coming within two weeks. It didn’t happen. On Monday, Trump tweeted that Pfizer and others “should be ashamed” for recent price increases, warning: “We will respond!” He didn't say how.
  • Trump’s longtime personal driver, Noel Cintron, sued the Trump Organization Monday, charging he was stiffed in his paychecks for "thousands of hours" of overtime that he worked.
  • A federal judge has extended a Tuesday deadline to reunite 102 migrant children under age 5 who were separated from parents by border authorities. The government said it needed more time because of difficulty locating many parents. 
  • Trump's feuding with NATO allies as this week's meeting in Brussels draws near has put Defense Secretary James Mattis in a tough spot. He is a strong believer in the alliance and has been urging the Europeans to judge the administration by its actions and not the president’s tweets, The Washington Post reports.
  • Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers complain they have been denied access when they sought to tour facilities where the separated children are being held, Roll Call reports.
  • Trump contended in a tweet that there was a good reason for the U.S. to oppose a World Health Assembly resolution encouraging breast-feeding in developing countries: “The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula.” The resolution didn’t seek to ban formula, but rather to curb misleading sales promotion.

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