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Trump nominee Neomi Rao grilled on past writings, expresses ‘regret’ about some

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — Judicial nominee Neomi Rao defended herself against tough questioning from members of both parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday and expressed “regret” for some of her past writings, which she said in retrospect make her “cringe.”

Nominated by President Donald Trump to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals, Rao was grilled heavily about her views on gender parity and sexual assault that were expressed in articles she wrote during her college years. Democrats have focused on those writings in their opposition to confirming her to one of the most powerful courts in the country, one that can be a spring board to the Supreme Court.

Rao, 45, attended Yale University and often wrote there about the topics of date rape, sexual assault and responsibility of those involved. At times, she placed the onus on women to “accept responsibility.”

She was asked repeatedly about one article in the Yale Herald, titled, “Shades of Gray,” in which she posited that sexual assaults at college parties might be avoided if women didn’t drink too much. She wrote that “a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.”

Two dozen activists showed up at the hearing room Tuesday in protest, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with that quote.

Rao insisted on Tuesday that “no one should blame a victim” of sexual assault, but she also said some of what she wrote amounted to “common sense observations” that would make women less likely to be a victim of assault.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is a victim of rape and sexual assault, said that some of Rao’s college writings give her “pause.”

“I’m not going to mince words,” Ernst said, who is one of two women appointed to the Judiciary Committee in the new Congress after having no GOP women on the committee. “I’ve had a chance to review a number of writings while you were in college and they do give me pause, not just from my personal experience, but regarding a message we are sending young women everywhere.”

In another, titled “The Feminist Dilemma” for the Yale Free Press, Rao wrote, “just as women want to control their education and then choose their career, similarly, they must learn to understand and accept responsibility for their sexuality.”

In the same article she wrote that anti-feminism academic Camille Paglia “accurately describes the dangerous feminist idealism which teaches women that they are equal.”

Ernst asked Rao if she doesn’t think women are equal.

“I very much regret that statement,” Rao said. “I’m honestly not sure why I wrote that in college.” Ernst said she wants “to have further conversations” with Rao on these topics.

“Looking back at some of those writings and re-reading them, I cringe at some of the language I used,” she told Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the committee.

In addition to her college writings, Democrats had concerns with her current role as the administrator of a little-known but powerful office in the executive branch, the Office of Informational and Regulatory Affairs. In that role, which is often called the “regulatory czar,” she has been instrumental in Trump’s rollback of government regulations at the Education Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and more.

The D.C. Circuit has jurisdiction of federal agencies and plays a major role in interpreting the role of agencies.

Democrats asked her if she would recuse herself on issues where she played a role in rolling back or rewriting regulations under the Trump administration, including: the clean power plant rule; the pending Title IX sexual assault regulations which would narrow the definition of sexual assault, place the burden on the victim to prove the assault in order for a school to respond and also raise the bar of proof; and the Housing and Urban Development disparate impact rule on race discrimination in housing, which is currently in litigation.

In each of the instances, Rao would not commit to recusing herself, saying she would “look carefully at the statutory standards of recusal” and “follow the practices of the D.C. Circuit.”

When asked by reporters if she was qualified to sit on the bench, Graham offered a quick, “yeah.”

Rao was asked about a litany of other issues, including her past opposition to affirmative action and climate change.

She said she now believed that human activity “does contribute” to climate change and that she didn’t take a specific position on dwarf tossing but commenting on a specific case.

In response to questions by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rao was asked if she thinks if gay marriage is “sinful.” Rao refused to comment. “These personal views are ones I would put to the side.”

If all Republicans back her, Democrats might not be able to defeat her confirmation with only 47 members, but they could do enough damage to prevent her from ever being nominated to the Supreme Court.

Garrett Haake contributed.



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GOP’s Byrne to challenge Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama in 2020

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By Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Republican Congressman Bradley Byrne of Alabama announced Wednesday that he will challenge U.S. Sen. Doug Jones in 2020 as the GOP tries to reclaim the high-profile seat previously held by Jeff Sessions.

Byrne, 64, is the first Republican to announce his candidacy in what is expected to be a crowded primary field seeking to unseat Jones, the first Democrat elected to the seat in a quarter century.

“I want a U.S. senator who will fight for you and me,” Byrne said in making his announcement before supporters in the south Alabama city of Mobile. He used his speech to express support for a border wall, gun rights and to also voice his opposition to abortion.

The primary is to be held March 3, 2020.

Jones’ campaign issued a statement calling Byrne a “career politician.”

“It doesn’t matter if Senator Jones has 1 opponent or 100. His focus is working for the people of Alabama whether it’s protecting our auto jobs and farmers against dangerous tariffs or building health care infrastructure in Alabama’s rural communities,” the Democrat’s campaign statement said.

Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for Birmingham’s infamous 1963 church bombing, is the lone Democrat currently holding statewide office in Alabama. Jones won the 2017 special election to replace Sessions by defeating Republican Roy Moore, who faced multiple sexual misconduct allegations, which he denied.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Byrne said Jones doesn’t represent “Alabama’s interests and Alabama values.” He criticized Jones’ decision to vote against the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and said that “turned off a lot an awful lot of Alabama citizens.”

“Are you going to stand with President Trump or are you going to be against President Trump?” Byrne said.

Jones said in September that he was voting no because of concerns about the “incomplete” vetting of Kavanaugh’s nomination and the “credible” testimony of a woman who said Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were teens. Kavanaugh denied the allegations.

After Sessions resigned as U.S. attorney general at Trump’s request in November, speculation had swirled that he might make a bid for his old Senate seat, but he has taken no public action in that direction so far.

Byrne said he has spoken with Sessions, but that Sessions should be the one to disclose his own future political intentions.

Byrne was elected to Congress in 2013 from Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. He was previously in the Alabama Senate and a chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.

An outspoken critic of the then-powerful teachers’ lobby, Byrne made an unsuccessful bid for Alabama governor in 2010. He lost the Republican primary after the lobby helped fund attack ads against him during the primary.

The 2020 race is expected to bring a crowded GOP field with a number of top state Republicans considering runs. State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh has said he is considering entering the race. The conservative group Club for Growth Action issued polling ahead of Byrne’s announcement contending that Rep. Gary Palmer would be a stronger candidate.

Palmer has not announced his intentions.

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Bigger is not better. Small dollars online are gold for Democrats taking on Trump.

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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — The most coveted donor for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates may not be a Wall Street financier or Hollywood producer, but a grade school teacher in the Midwest who chips in $25 a month to her favorite candidate.

Small dollars are a bigger deal than ever because they can help organize and engage a large and committed group of supporters who invest more than just money in a campaign.

“Small-dollar donors are going to be a pivotal part of this election, both strategically and practically,” said Erin Hill, executive director of ActBlue, Democrats’ central clearinghouse for online donations. “Small-dollar donors don’t just give — they also vote, volunteer and tell their friends why they care about a candidate.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., proved that his supporters, or at least 225,000 of them, are still committed when he raised a whopping $6 million on Wednesday, the day after launching his presidential campaign.

Rufus Gifford, who served as national finance director for President Barack Obama’s re-election effort in 2012, called the haul “truly remarkable,” noting on Twitter that he was skeptical Sanders could match his 2016 effort: “I was wrong.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced raising $1.5 million on her first day in the race, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she brought in $1 million in her first 48 hours. The other candidates have not released numbers, but FEC data shows Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., raised about $300,000 online through ActBlue on New Year’s Eve, when she announced her exploratory committee.

Sanders, of course, had a head start thanks to his previous presidential run, which helped him grow a donor pool the size of every other perspective candidate combined, according to a recent New York Times analysis.

But the good news for the rest of the current field of White House hopefuls is that there is now more opportunity than ever for left-leaning candidates to tap into grassroots fundraising — if they know how to.

“As donors get younger and younger, and people get more and more used to the internet, and campaigns get savvier and savvier, there is very real money available,” said Teddy Goff, who was a top digital strategist on presidential runs by Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Goff recalled that as recently as 2012 people would call into the Obama campaign to make sure it was safe for them to donate online.

Now, thanks to Amazon and everything else that Americans do online, digital financial transactions have become second nature. And thanks to President Donald Trump, Democratic voters are eager to open their digital wallets.

In last year’s midterm elections, ActBlue processed more than $1.6 billion in online donations, up from $782 million in 2016 and $335 million in 2014 — a five-fold surge in four years. (Republicans just last month established their answer to ActBlue after years of false starts.)

And as donating online has become frictionless for Democrats, the party has grown increasingly hostile to traditional modes of funding campaigns and to big money in politics.

For the first time, the Democratic National Committee will allow candidates to qualify to take part in the party’s debates if they can secure donations from 65,000 people in at least 20 different states. In the past, only candidates who registered a certain amount of support in the polls were allowed to participate.

“Because campaigns are won on the strength of their grassroots, we also updated the threshold, giving all types of candidates the opportunity to reach the debate stage and giving small-dollar donors a bigger voice in the primary than ever before,” DNC chairman Tom Perez said in a statement announcing the change.

That’s already altering some campaigns’ strategies, with lesser-known candidates like Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, pursuing that path to the debate stage.

Tara McGowan, the founder and CEO of the Democratic digital firm Acronym, said smart campaigns make donors “feel a sense of ownership” in the campaign and give them other meaningful ways to engage, like by volunteering or posting on social media.

“You run the risk of thinking of digital outreach as an ATM for the campaign,” she said. “You’re missing a real opportunity to help amplify your message if you’re not engaging people who are already raising their hand.”

Meanwhile, big donors simply aren’t as valuable as they once were, excluding groups that can take unlimited contributions like super PACs — and almost every major 2020 candidate has sworn off them already.

For Democrats, big checks also can come with a political cost, especially if they’re written by people who work in certain industries that have been targeted by the left, such as finance, fossil fuels and pharmaceuticals.

While large donors may expect something in return for their largesse, from a photo-op with the candidate to an ambassadorship to France, someone who gives $5 is not counting on much more than a feeling of connection to the candidate and solidarity with other small donors.

For instance, Warren has recalled how during her first run for the Senate in 2012, a young man approached her on a subway platform late one night to tell her he was working extra hours to donate to her campaign every month.

“I felt as if he’d hit me with a spear right between the ribs,” Warren wrote in her book, “A Fighting Chance.” “Good Lord — this kid was working until nearly 11 o’clock on a Saturday night and he was sending me money? I smiled weakly and said something along the lines of: ‘Uh, I’m doing OK in the campaign. Maybe you should keep your money. I’ll be fine. Really.'”

But she says he looked back and replied: “No, I’m part of this campaign. This is my fight, too.”

The first big fundraising test for every candidate will come at the end of March, when they have to file their first quarterly reports to the FEC. Early fundraising numbers are heavily scrutinized by party insiders and the media as a sign of a candidate’s strength, and historically they have been a better predictor of success than early polls.

As Democrats fight their primary race and chase small-dollar contributors, they’re not alone.

Trump’s forces have spent more than $4 million on Facebook ads since November alone to expand their list of supporters, and 75 percent of the money his campaign raised in the most recent quarter came from donors who give $200 or less.

“Realistically,” ActBlue’s Hill said, “our nominee is going to need to be primarily funded by grassroots donors in order to beat Trump, who already has widespread small-dollar donor support.”



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Judge puts strict gag order on Roger Stone, allows him to remain out of jail

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By Jane C. Timm, Gary Grumbach and Charlie Gile

A federal judge banned Roger Stone from speaking publicly about his case on Thursday, after hauling him back to court to answer for an Instagram post attacking her.

“Publicity cannot subside if it’s the defendant that’s fanning the flames,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Thursday, making it clear that a violation of the strict gag order would mean jail for the former Trump adviser.

“Today, I gave you a second chance. This is not baseball, you don’t get a third chance,” she told Stone.

Stone can still raise funds for his legal defense and maintain his innocence publicly, but he cannot comment on the case or its participants, the judge said.

Before issuing her ruling, Jackson said Stone “couldn’t keep his story straight on the stand” when she allowed him the opportunity to explain his decision to post an image of her on Instagram with what appeared to be the crosshairs of a gun near her head. His apology, she said, rang “hollow.”

The Instagram post in question, posted to Stone’s account earlier this week, was accompanied by a caption in which he suggested Jackson was politically biased, slammed Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and sought donations for his legal defense. Stone later said his post wasn’t meant to be threatening and deleted it.

“I am hurtfully sorry for my own stupidity. I am kicking myself, not as much as my wife is kicking me,” Stone told the court Thursday. He called the Instagram post “a momentary lapse of judgment” before saying that the photo was selected by someone who works for him, which he estimated was about “five or six people.”

Stone also said he “didn’t think they were crosshairs.”

Jackson, who is presiding over his prosecution, responded to Stone’s Instagram post by scheduling the hearing to discuss “why the media contact order entered in this case and/or his conditions of release should not be modified or revoked in light of the posts on his Instagram account.”

Her options included revoking his bail.

Stone’s attorneys argued Thursday that Stone, who said he was broke and struggling to deal with the stress, did not violate the limited gag order or the conditions of his release. They assured Jackson that Stone would not repeat his mistake.

“Sometimes a person learns a lesson, especially when a person is unrestrained in his speaking. It’s indefensible,” Stone attorney Bruce Rogow said.

“I agree with you there,” the judge said.

Government prosecutors sought a stricter gag order.

“I would submit that the defendant’s testimony at this hearing was not credible,” prosecutor Jonathan Kravis said. “That he committed a lapse in judgement is belied by the fact that even after he realized the post was a mistake, he continued to make statements to the media that amplified that message.”

Stone, who was arrested by the FBI in January, faces seven charges arising from Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, including five counts of making false statements, one count of obstruction and one count of witness tampering. Stone has denied all charges.

After Stone gave a slew of media interviews, Jackson issued a limited gag order in the case last week that prevents Stone from speaking to the press about the case in the vicinity of the courthouse.

Neither the limited gag order, nor the threat of jail time, discouraged Stone from giving interviews or posting about his case.

On his way to court Thursday morning, he was on Instagram again, posting a photo of him posing with merchandise he’s selling in support of his legal defense.

“Help me in my epic fight against the anti-@realdonaldTrump Deep State,” he wrote with the hashtag, #rogerstonedidnothingwrong.



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