Nicole_lafond_profile2019

Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

During her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Wendy Vitter, one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, refused to answer a Democratic senator’s questions about whether the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court ruling was correctly decided.

The seminal SCOTUS decision desegregated schools and changed the landscape of education in the United States with its 1954 ruling that state laws allowing “separate-but-equal” schools violated the Constitution.

When Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on Wednesday asked whether the ruling was “correctly decided,” Vitter — who was nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana — dodged the question, saying she didn’t want to comment on any specific rulings. She claimed commenting would open up the door for critiques of her impartiality.

“I don’t mean to be coy, but I think I can get into a difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions — which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with,” she said. “Again my personal, political or religious views I would set aside, that is Supreme Court precedent. It is binding. If I were to be confirmed I would be bound by it, and of course I would uphold it.”

Blumenthal asked her again if the monumental case was “correctly decided.”

“And again, I will respectfully not comment on what could be my boss’ ruling, the Supreme Court, I would be bound by it and if I start commenting on ‘I agree with this case or I don’t agree with this case,’ I think we get into a slippery slope,” she said.

While it is not uncommon for a judicial nominee to refrain from commenting on specific Supreme Court rulings — in 1986 Justice Antonin Scalia refused to answer questions about the pivotal Marbury v. Madison ruling, as CNN noted — the decision to dodge questions about the case that desegregated Americans schools raised eyebrows.

Affirming the correctness of the desegregation ruling appears to be the exception to the impartiality rule for many judicial nominees. Justice Neil Gorsuch was willing to say that Brown v. the Board of Education was “a correct application of the law of precedent” in his 2017 confirmation hearing and Chief Justice John Roberts even offered praise for the decision during his 2005 confirmation. 

“The genius of the decision was the recognition that the act of separating the students was where the violation was. And it rejected the defense — certainly, just a theoretical one given the actual record — that you could have equal facilities and equal treatment,” Roberts said at the time.

Watch a clip of the back-and-forth below, via CNN:

 

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President Donald Trump on Thursday returned to battering The New York Times and denied the newspapers’ reports that the President moved to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in December after he reportedly started digging into Trump’s finances.

“If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him,” he tweeted early Thursday. “Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!”

The Times reported on Tuesday that Trump told his advisers in December that he wanted to shut down Mueller’s probe after his team subpoenaed Deutshe Bank for records on Trump. The President reportedly backed down after his lawyers spoke with Mueller’s team and learned that the reports of the subpoenas were inaccurate. Trump also reportedly tried to fire Mueller in June 2017, but cooled off after White House lawyer Don McGahn threatened to quit.

While Trump’s tweet appears to deny reports that he wanted to fire Mueller last year, the President publicly mulled firing the special counsel after the FBI raided his personal attorney’s office, home and hotel earlier this week.

During a meeting with top military brass and members of his national security team, Trump told reporters that the raid was “an attack on our country” and said “many people have said you should fire him,” in response to questions about whether he would fire Mueller.    

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After implying that a “nice and new and smart!” missile attack on Syria was imminent on Wednesday, President Donald Trump walked back his warning to Russia about striking its ally for a suspected chemical attack.

“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” he tweeted early Thursday. “In any event, the United States, under my administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’”

The rectifying tweet comes after Trump received a swath of criticism on Wednesday for his early-morning warnings to Russia to “get ready” for a missile attack. Wednesday’s tweet was likely in response to reports that Russia planned to shoot down any missile launched at Syria and would target the launching area.

The U.S. has reportedly been quietly working with France and Britain to take retaliatory measures against Syria for a suspected chemical weapon attack that killed at least 40 people in a rebel-held town near Damascus over the weekend. Trump was criticized Wednesday not only for taunting Russia, but also for his hypocrisy in sharing major military operation intelligence on Twitter. Throughout his campaign, Trump criticized former President Barack Obama for announcing military strikes before they were carried out.

While Syria has denied it used chemical weapons against its own citizens, the United Nations health agency on Wednesday said that at least 500 patients in Damascus showed some signs of exposure to toxic chemicals.    

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Wednesday praised his counterpart in the House, following Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) announcement that he plans to retire this fall.

McConnell said that Ryan will leave behind a legacy of a “transformational conservative leader” and said he was “glad” that Ryan planned to stay in Congress until January.

It’s been a sincere pleasure and a real inspiration to work alongside this humble servant and happy warrior,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “I am glad we can count on his continued leadership through the rest of the year because our work together is far from finished. I look forward to collaborating closely these next months to implement more of the inclusive pro-growth, pro-opportunity agenda the American people are counting on us to keep advancing.”

During a press conference on Wednesday morning, Ryan confirmed reports that he wouldn’t seek reelection after nearly 20 years serving in the House. After less than three years as Speaker, Ryan said he knew the position was not going to be permanent when he begrudgingly took on the leadership role in October 2015 and said he wanted to spend more time at home in Wisconsin so his children don’t spend their entire childhood with a “weekend dad.”

Rumors have been circulating for months suggesting Ryan was planning to resign or, at least, retire when his term is up, but his office has, up until Wednesday, continuously denied those reports.

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On the heels of reports that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is set to retire this fall, President Donald Trump praised Ryan for his “achievement,” calling him a “truly good man.”

Ryan’s office confirmed on Wednesday morning that the Speaker was not seeking reelection when his term is up in November.

“After nearly twenty years in the House, the speaker is proud of all that has been accomplished and is ready to devote more of his time to being a husband and a father,” Brendan Buck, the counselor to the speaker, said Wednesday. “While he did not seek the position, he told his colleagues that serving as speaker has been the professional honor of his life, and he thanked them for the trust they placed in him.”

Rumors of Ryan’s retirement or possible resignation have been circulating for months, but Ryan’s office has denied all reports that he was planning to leave Congress.

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Just before he was inaugurated, President Donald Trump was busy trying to get a Democrat to switch parties, just like he once did.

While courting Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) for a potential Cabinet position in December 2016, Trump asked her if she’d consider joining the Republican Party, according to The Washington Post.

“When I visited him in Trump Tower before he was sworn in, he asked me to switch parties,” Heitkamp told the Post on Tuesday. “He says, ‘You should switch parties.’ … I said ‘You should give me and Ex-Im Bank.’”

Heitkamp was referencing the Export-Import Bank, which, at the time, she was a vocal advocate for.

Heitkamp, a moderate Democrat, also suggested that last December was not the only time the President had asked her to switch sides. When he asked her to join him while he pitched his tax plan in North Dakota last September, Trump “might have asked me on that trip” to become a Republican, she said.

“He’s always ribbing me a little bit about being too conservative to be a Democrat,” she said. “I think he knows it’s not going to happen.”

Heitkamp, who will likely face a Trump-backed conservative in her reelection bid this fall, said she has often found middle ground with Trump and even agrees with his policy on issues like deregulation and fighting for “working people,” she told the Post.   

Read the Post’s full report on Heitkamp here.

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) is scheduled to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. EST Wednesday on the heels of news that the speaker plans to retire when his term is up this fall. Watch live below:

The Environmental Protection Agency ousted a career staffer who signed off on a report that undermined Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claims of a need for around-the-clock security detail, Politico reported Tuesday.

The staffer, Mario Caraballo, was the deputy associate administrator for the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security. In February that department determined that a previous review of threats made against Pruitt did not identify “credible direct threats” that would justify Pruitt’s high spending on security, which has reportedly exceed $3 million.

The EPA has claimed that Pruitt requires the unprecedented security because of the volume of threats he’s received since joining the administration — like people cursing at him in public.

In a letter to the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Tom Carper (D-DE) cited that report as justification for its request for an oversight hearing on Pruitt’s spending.

According to two former agency employees familiar with the situation who spoke with Politico, the EPA claimed Caraballo was removed from his post over a personnel issue from a previous military job. That source told Politico officials also weren’t happy about the report.

Pruitt has been plagued with frequent reports of impropriety in recent weeks, raising speculation about how long he’ll remain as head of the EPA. President Donald Trump has indicated on Twitter that Pruitt is safe in his post for now.

Read Politico’s full report here.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators met with President Trump lawyers on the same day as the FBI’s raid of Trump’s personal lawyer’s house, hotel and office this week, CNN reported.

According to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with CNN, the meeting was previously scheduled as part of the efforts to prepare Trump for a potential interview with Mueller. No formal decision has been made about whether Trump will agree to be interviewed by Mueller.

The FBI raided Trump’s layer Michael Cohen’s home, office and hotel on Tuesday and seized documents, including information about Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election. The money was reportedly used to keep Daniels quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump a decade ago.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning suggested that the U.S. plans to strike Syria in retaliation for what world leaders suspect was a chemical attack on the Syrian people over the weekend.

On Wednesday, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon reportedly warned that Russia would shoot down any missile launched at Syria and would target the launching area, according to the Associated Press. Trump responded to those warnings via Twitter, telling Russia to “get ready” because an attack with “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles was imminent.

“You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” he said, referencing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump also lamented that the U.S.’s relationship with Russia is “worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.” He claimed there was “no reason for this.”

While Russia and Syria have denied the suspected chemical weapon attack that killed at least 40 people in a rebel-held town near Damascus, the United Nations health agency on Wednesday said it had received reports from its partners in Syria that said at least 500 of the patients showed signs of exposure to toxic chemicals, according to the AP. The report did not confirm outright that a chemical weapons attack had taken place.

Trump’s tweet confirms reports that the U.S. is at least mulling retaliating against Syria. According to the AP, the U.S., France and Britain are in extensive conversations about launching a strike as early as the end of the week, likely launching from France as the French president doesn’t need parliamentary approval to launch a military strike. The three countries are considering a military option that would be more damaging than just one retalitatory strike, according to an official who spoke with the AP.

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