Senator Mitch McConnell on his moral red lines

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A historic moment yesterday in the Senate, where Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson became the new Supreme Court Justice after a vote of 53 to 47. She will be the first black woman appointed to the high court. The confirmation marks President Biden’s first choice to the Supreme Court. And it may be his only.

  • In addition, States are waging new battles over the right to abortion.

Guests: Jonathan Swan and Oriana González from Axios.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani and Lydia McMullen-Laird. The music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can send questions, comments, and story ideas to Niala in text or voice memo form at 202-918-4893.

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Good morning! Welcome to Axios today!

Today is Friday, April 8.

I am Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: The United States is getting its first black female Supreme Court justice. In addition, States are waging new battles over the right to abortion.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: Jonathan Swan presses Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on his moral red lines.

KAMALA HARRIS: On this vote, the yeses are 53. The noes are 47 and this nomination is confirmed. [applause]

NIALA: A historic moment yesterday in the Senate where Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson became the new Supreme Court Justice after a vote of 53 to 47. She will be the first black woman appointed to the high court. The confirmation marks President Biden’s first choice to the Supreme Court. And it may be his only. This was part of the topic of the conversation Axios’ Jonathan Swan had yesterday morning with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell repeatedly declined to answer questions about holding hearings if there was another Supreme Court opening after the midterm elections.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Um, I’ll be interested in working with the president when he’s ready to be moderated, but as far as personnel and other things that we’re involved in, I’m not going to report how we’re going approach.

NIALA: Jonathan, first of all, is this what the GOP strategy might look like if they were in the majority?

JONATHAN SWAN: Yes. Mitch McConnell signals in this interview by his non-response that he is at least considering declining to hold hearings on any Joe Biden nominee for Supreme Court. And you’ll remember he did that in 2016 to Barack Obama for Merrick Garland. So what we might see is McConnell leaving the door open to creating a new normal. If you just imagine next year, just visualize this: Republicans win the Senate. God forbid, but a health crisis brings a judge out of court. Joe Biden, name someone he wants to field. And McConnell says, no, I’m proposing a new standard for why we’re not going to do it. Well, then you have an eight-person tribunal, and you could have that tribunal indefinitely, as long as the opposition party controls the Senate. This is a really important development. If this- if he goes this way.

NIALA: I just want to stay with the Supreme Court for a moment, because you also asked them about Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas. And whether Judge Thomas should recuse himself from cases involving President Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. Can you just explain what McConnell was thinking there, how he responded to you?

JONATHAN: Yeah, he just reflexively defended Clarence Thomas. McConnell is right when he says it’s up to Supreme Court justices to decide if they have any conflicts of interest. It’s true. They are accountable to no one. So basically, even though Judge Thomas ruled on cases related to Trump’s White House efforts to nullify the election, while his wife was simultaneously strategizing with White House staff to nullify all of the elections, he said he trusted Clarence Thomas to make those decisions. .

NIALA: I want to ask you about another contradiction that you tried to get him to address. Which condemns President Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection, which he did immediately after January 6, but later also supported President Trump. How did he explain this contradiction to you?

JONATHAN: He basically didn’t, he just refused to answer the question and I set that up by saying, you know, what are your moral red lines? Is there anything, is there a threshold – anything that a Republican candidate could say or do that would result in losing their support. And basically he supports the party candidate. No matter what. He’s a GOP man and that trumps everything, apparently.

NIALA: Ultimately, what did you learn from Mitch McConnell in this interview?

JONATHAN: McConnell is a totally ruthless political animal. It’s all about winning and doing what it takes to win. And there is no difference this year. He wants to be Majority Leader again. I think he has the story in mind, his legacy. He is 80 years old. I did a lot of interviews with difficult subjects, including several world leaders. Mitch McConnell is definitely the toughest interview I’ve ever done. And I actually think probably in American politics.

NIALA: Axios National Policy Correspondent, Jonathan Swan. Thanks Jonathan.

JONATHAN: Thanks for inviting me.

NIALA: In a moment, a new lawsuit in Michigan by its governor to protect the right to abortion.

NIALA: Welcome to Axios today. I am Niala Boodhoo. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is set to consolidate abortion rights in her state. She just filed a lawsuit to protect abortion rights under Michigan’s constitution ahead of a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. And other states across the country are also waging new battles against abortion… Oriana Gonzalez of Axios has been reporting on all of this. Hi Oriana.

ORIANA: Hello Niala.

NIALA: Can we start with Michigan? And can you explain why a lawsuit on behalf of the Governor would protect abortion rights in Michigan?

ORIANA: So with his trial, Governor Whitmer is trying to do two things. The first is to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to explicitly say that abortion rights are protected by the state constitution. And then the second actually examines a pre-Roe abortion ban that exists in the state. By that I mean there was a law that was enacted in Michigan in 1931 that explicitly says abortion is illegal and the law still exists. It’s still in the books, but it’s currently dormant because of Roe V. Wade. And what Whitmer is specifically asking for is that the Supreme Court of Michigan rule that this law is unconstitutional, that it completely violates different clauses of the constitution, and therefore will never be brought back.

NIALA: How many states have similar laws like this?

ORIANA: There are at least eight states that we know of that have pre-Roe laws. All in general simply say that abortion in this state is illegal and all are currently inactive because Roe V. Wade is still in place.

NIALA: Where else are we seeing new attempts to protect abortion rights at the state level?

ORIANA: More recently, actually, earlier this week, Colorado became the 16th state to codify abortion rights. This means that even if the Supreme Court gets rid of its precedents, protecting the right to abortion, access to abortion would be guaranteed by Colorado law. It would be a constitutional right of the state. Vermont actually became the first state to attempt to do so. They proposed a constitutional amendment doing the same thing.

NIALA: But Oriana, how many more states are going in the opposite direction and putting more restrictions on abortion.

ORIANA: With regard to the red states, we see various attempts to try to restrict abortion. So, more recently, Idaho actually became the first state to officially enact legislation based on Texas’ six-week ban, which, as you’ll recall, was passed last year. Basically, it effectively prohibits all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. And what has happened is that states like Idaho have seized on this law as a model to create a loss that will limit abortion. Oklahoma passed a law earlier this week making abortion illegal. It is not modeled on Texas law. And it was completely unexpected. But it’s the first one that happened recently that explicitly says that abortion is a crime. And at the same time, in fact, as of today, Oklahoma could pass another law that is also a near total ban on abortion, except under specific conditions, such as if there is a medical emergency or s there is rape or incest. And what’s happening in particular with the Supreme Court, and obviously given that it has a 6-3 conservative majority, they seem likely to roll back abortion rights. We still don’t know if that means overthrowing Roe V. Wade, or possibly weakening him. And a decision on this particular case they are looking at is expected sometime this summer. It could be as early as June.

NIALA: Oriana Gonzalez from Axios, thank you Oriana.

ORIANA: Thank you Niala.

That’s all we have for you today!

Axios Today is produced by Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our lead producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our editor. And a special thank you, as always, to Axios co-founder, Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo – thanks for listening – stay safe and we’ll see you here on Monday.

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