Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week, one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees struggled to answer basic questions from a Republican senator about legal terms.

Matthew Spencer Petersen, who was nominated to serve as a district court judge for the District of Columbia, formerly served on the Federal Election Commission and as Republican chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) quizzed Petersen on his legal background and knowledge on Wednesday, beginning by asking if he had ever tried a case in court. Petersen replied that he had not. Petersen also said that he has never taken a deposition on his own, though he helped while working as an associate at a law firm after he finished law school.

Kennedy then started on legal terminology, asking Petersen if he knows what the Daubert standard is.

“Sen. Kennedy, I don’t have that readily at my disposal, but I would be happy to take a closer look at that. That is not something I’ve had to contend with,” Petersen replied.

Similarly, Petersen said he did not have a deep understanding of a motion to limine. The nominee then touted his experience at the FEC, which he argued has prepared him to be a judge.

“Yes, I’ve read your resume,” Kennedy interjected before asking again about a motion to limine. “Just for the record, do you know what a motion in limine is?”

“I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table,” Petersen replied.

Watch a video of the exchange shared by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) Thursday night:

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Thursday introduced a bill along with eight Republican co-sponsors in the Senate to change the way Congress deals with harassment and discrimination claims.

The recent spate of sexual misconduct claims against lawmakers on Capitol Hill has prompted Congress to scrutinize the current laborious, secretive process for reporting and addressing sexual misconduct on the Hill. Several lawmakers have introduced proposals to change the system, and Gillibrand’s is the latest to do so. Her bill has the distinction of having eight Republican co-sponsors, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the senate.

“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” said Gillibrand said in a statement Thursday announcing the bill. “There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises, all of which can throw off the entire trajectory in their careers. We must ensure that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. This bipartisan legislation would bring us much closer to that goal.”

The legislation, titled the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, would have victims decide how to resolve their complaint, according to Gillibrand’s office. The current system requires victims to go through counseling before filing a formal complaint, an aspect that has been widely criticized by Democrats.

The bill would also mandate that members of Congress pay any settlements out of their own pockets and that any settlements for a member must be approved by the House or Senate ethics committee, Gillibrand’s office said in a press release about the legislation. It would also require Congress to publicly disclose any settlements unless the victim asks for the settlement to remain private.

The legislation also includes provisions mandating sexual harassment training, creates the position of a confidential adviser to help those filing reports of harassment or discrimination, and would change the name of the office that handles these issues from the Office of Compliance to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, per Gillibrand’s office.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Thursday that he has fired four top officials in the department for “inappropriate behavior” on the same day that the department released a survey showing that about a third of staffers at Interior have experienced harassment or discrimination over the course of the last year.

“I’m speaking today to make it clear that the culture of harassment and intimidation, which this administration inherited, has come to an end. I’ve already removed four senior leaders that were guilty of inappropriate behavior, and I will remove 400 more if necessary,” Zinke said in a video published on the Interior Department website. “Intimidation, harassment and discrimination is a cancer to any organization. However deep it goes, we will remove it from Interior.”

Zinke did not detail the “inappropriate behavior” exhibited by the four fired employees, leaving unclear the nature of the harassment or discrimination. The secretary also suggested that the Obama administration was to blame for allowing a culture of harassment, portraying himself as the harbinger of change.

“In the past, the words ‘zero tolerance’ have been an empty promise. While past leaders at Interior have said the right things, there was very little if any action,” he said in the video. “To be clear, Interior will no longer protect predators or accept inappropriate behavior.”

Asked for details Thursday on any staffers fired as a result of the survey, Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift would not say much to the Associated Press, but she did say that those terminated abused their authority, including with sexual harassment.

“Generally speaking, those terminated abused their authority to intimidate or harass fellow employees. This includes but is not limited to sexual harassment,” Swift told the AP in a statement.

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President Donald Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin over the phone on Thursday and thanked the Russian leader for lauding U.S. economic performance during his annual press conference, the White House said Thursday evening.

Putin specifically praised Trump’s “quite serious achievements” when it comes to economic growth during the press conference. The Russian leader also dismissed the notion that Russia worked with the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election.

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe intensifies, Trump has continued to deny that his campaign colluded with Russia. The President has also avoided affirming the wide-held belief that Russia was behind the 2016 election hacking, so much so that his aides avoid mentioning it to him, according to the Washington Post.

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Following reports indicating that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is seriously considering retiring from Congress, a spokeswoman for the speaker said that he is “not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Strong indicated that Brendan Buck, a counselor to Ryan, would have additional comment, but he had not yet weighed in early Thursday afternoon.

Ryan also addressed speculation that he is thinking about retiring on Thursday. Asked as he was leaving his weekly press briefing whether he was quitting any time soon, Ryan replied, “I’m not.”

Two recent reports sparked the speculation.

The Huffington Post reported on Wednesday night that Republicans in Congress have been hearing rumors and speculation that Ryan will step aside soon now that he’s on the cusp of passing tax cuts, a long-held dream of his.

Politico followed up Thursday afternoon reporting that Ryan has told confidants that this will be his final term as speaker and that he’s considering retiring from Congress altogether at the end of this congress. Per Politico:

More recently, over closely held conversations with his kitchen cabinet, Ryan’s preference has become clear: He would like to serve through Election Day 2018 and retire ahead of the next Congress.

After the Politico report dropped, CNN published a report that Ryan has been “soul searching” about his future with close friends, and that those friends think it’s possible Ryan could leave Congress after the 2018 election.

Asked about the reports that Ryan is considering retirement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday afternoon that Trump spoke with Ryan recently and that the speaker assured him that the reports were not accurate.

“The President did speak to the speaker not too long ago, and made sure that the speaker knew very clearly, in no uncertain terms, that if that news was true he was very unhappy with it. The speaker has assured the President that those were not accurate reports, and they look forward to working together for a long time to come,” Sanders told reporters at the daily press briefing.

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Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, stressed on Thursday morning that Republican Roy Moore lost the Alabama senate and that Republicans must move on despite Moore’s refusal to concede the race.

During an interview on Fox News, host Sandra Smith noted that Moore has yet to concede the race despite Democrat Doug Jones’ decisive margin of victory, and asked Thune if he was relieved that Moore lost. Thune hedged and argued that there was no good outcome before stressing that Moore definitely lost and that Senate Republicans will just have to operate with one fewer member in their caucus.

“I think the message coming out of this, Sandra, is that unelectable candidates don’t normally get elected. And there were issues that we knew, everybody knew, that were going to be problematic. He was going to come in here, if he got elected, under a cloud in an ethics investigation. I’m not happy with the outcome. There were no good outcomes as far as I’m concerned there. I thought the best solution if he had stepped aside and allowed another Republican to run, we would have won that seat,” Thune told Smith.

“So we have to deal now with another Democrat in the Senate, but Roy Moore lost that election. It’s over,” Thune added. “We’ll move on and do the best that we can in the days ahead to continue to move an agenda forward that is good for the American people.”

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After Democrat Doug Jones’ stunning win in the Alabama Senate race on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump was mildly frustrated with Steve Bannon for urging him to back Roy Moore, but he remained surprisingly calm considering the GOP’s loss, according to several reports out Wednesday night.

The President was annoyed by coverage suggesting that the Alabama race was a referendum on his presidency and said, “I won Alabama, and I would have won Alabama again,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post. Trump spent Wednesday asking advisers whether he made a mistake backing Moore and about his tweet after the race stressing that he endorsed Luther Strange in the Republican primary, the New York Times reported.

Trump distanced himself from the race and instead blamed Bannon for encouraging him to stand with Moore and blamed Moore for being a bad candidate, according to the Washington Post. However, it appears Trump is not upset enough with Bannon to remove him from his large circle of advisers and the two spoke by phone with Bannon on Tuesday, according to the New York Times.

Despite his frustration and time spent questioning his choices, aides told the Washington Post and the New York Times that Trump was in surprisingly good spirits on Wednesday and approached the loss with a relatively muted response.

Trump, known for launching into angry tirades on Twitter while watching the news in the morning, only published a few tweets on the race on Wednesday. He distanced himself from Moore and reminded Twitter that he backed Strange in the primary. He later followed up with a tweet saying that the Republican party needs to recruit better candidates, placing the blame squarely on Moore.

One member of Trump’s orbit who could see his role diminished in the wake of the Alabama loss is Bill Stepien, Trump’s political director. The White House could bring on another political adviser, and reduce Stepien’s role, according to the Washington Post. The New York Times also reported that aides expect Stepien’s role to be diminished.

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Two Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday asked the Office of Government Ethics to investigate sexual misconduct allegations made against President Donald Trump before he took office.

In a letter, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), the chair of the House Democratic caucus, and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), a leading voice in the #MeToo movement in Congress, noted that the ethics committees in the House and the Senate have launched probes into claims about lawmakers’ conduct but that accusations against Trump have not been investigated.

“Following the release of a video tape in October 2016 in which then-candidate Donald Trump admits ― and brags about ― making unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances toward women, numerous individuals came forward to share their own personal stories of their encounters,” they wrote in the letter.

“We believe public officials must set the gold standard for professional behavior, particularly those who hold the high offices of representative, senator, and ― especially ― president of the United States,” the Democratic lawmakers added. “That is why it is incredibly important that you conduct an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct by the president. No individual is above the law, regardless of his or her profession, persona, or power.”

Several Democratic members of Congress asked the House Oversight Committee to investigate the sexual misconduct claims against Trump earlier this week, but Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) declined to launch a probe and referred the matter to the Justice Department.

Read the letter from Crowley and Speier:

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Roy Moore still refuses to concede the Alabama Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones and suggested in a video released by his campaign Wednesday night that provisional and military ballots could still swing the race in his favor.

“We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization, and our religion, and to set free a suffering humanity. And the battle rages on,” Moore says in the video. “In this race, we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots. This has been a very close race – and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.”

Though it’s true that the secretary of state has not certified the results and the state must account for remaining ballots, the secretary of state has also said that it’s unlikely Moore will ultimately defeat Jones given the current margin in the race.

In the video, Moore went on to charge that the political process has been “tainted” by “baseless” allegations and money from outside groups.

“Immorality sweeps over our land. Even our political process has been affected with baseless and false allegations, which have become more relevant than the true issues which affect our country,” Moore says in the video. “This election was tainted by over $50 million from outside groups who want to retain power in their own corrupt ideology.”

Jones leads Moore by 1.5 percentage points according to unofficial results. The race as of Thursday morning is not close enough to trigger a state-sponsored recount. Alabama and national Republicans have accepted the results of the race — President Donald Trump called Jones to congratulate him on the win on Wednesday.

Watch Moore’s video:

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday afternoon lamented that some Republicans were “happy” that Republican Roy Moore, who faced several sexual misconduct allegations, lost the Alabama Senate race.

“We wish we would have gotten the seat. A lot of Republicans feel differently. They’re very happy with the way it turned out,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I would have — as the leader of the party, I would have liked to have had the seat. I want to endorse the people that are running.”

Though most Republicans never fully yanked their support for Moore, a handful of GOP lawmakers opposed him outright. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) donated to Democrat Doug Jones’ campaign and celebrated Jones’ win Tuesday night. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), a frequent critic of Trump, said Wednesday morning that he was “happy” with Jones’ win. Both senators are not running for re-election.

The President told reporters Wednesday that Moore’s loss will not affect his agenda but also stressed that Republican gains in 2018 would be helpful.

“I will say, we have to get more senators and more congressmen that are Republicans elected in ’18. And then you’ll see a lot more of what we’re doing right now,” he said.

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