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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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‘Don’t blame Boris – it’s YOUR fault,’ ex-UKIP MEP tells Philip Hammond

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EX-UKIP MEP Patrick O’Flynn has launched a savage attack on Philip Hammond after the former chancellor claimed a no deal Brexit would be a “betrayal” of the 2016 referendum result – accusing him of being responsible for the UK’s failure to leave the EU in the first place and calling for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend him and other Remainers from the Parliamentary Conservative Party.

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Steve King questions if humanity would exist without ‘rape or incest’

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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, questioned on Wednesday whether humanity would exist if not for the rapes and incest that happened throughout history.

“What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest?,” he said at a speech in Urbandale, Iowa. “Would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillage that has taken place? And whatever happened to culture after society, I know that I can’t certify that that I am not a part of the product of that.”

King was speaking in defense of an anti-abortion bill he sought to pass in Congress that would not allow for exceptions for pregnancies that were the result of rape or incest. The congressman’s remarks to the Westside Conservative Club near Des Moines were first reported by The Des Moines Register.

According to the newspaper, King touched on another recent controversy of his — this one involving the blowback he faced over a January New York Times quote on white nationalism and white supremacy. King was quoted as saying “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

King on Wednesday claimed political insiders told him there was a plot to get him out of office, including having President Donald Trump criticize him. But King said he met with Trump and there was “no signal from Donald Trump that he’s anything other than supportive of me.”

The January comments led to multiple high-level Republicans denouncing his remarks and him being stripped of his committee assignments. Soon after, the House formally condemned white nationalism and white supremacy.

His comments on Wednesday drew backlash from a slew of prominent Democrats, including many of the 2020 presidential candidates. New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called on King to resign.

Other presidential candidates, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, encouraged voters to donate to King’s Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten. Scholten accused King of “excusing violence” and said that “his comments are disrespectful to survivors and don’t reflect Iowan values.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg told MSNBC that King’s remarks were “extremely disturbing.”

“I would think anybody who had said something that extreme would resign,” he said. “But then again, I doubt that he’ll actually do it. So we’re just going to have to beat him the old fashioned way.”

King’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

Josh Lederman and Alex Moe contributed.



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Pelosi knocks ‘Moscow Mitch’ for blocking gun, election interference bills

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed ‘Moscow Mitch’ – a derisive nickname for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – in a speech on Wednesday for blocking bills aimed at preventing gun violence and foreign election interference.

“We all want to invest in building our democracy and saving it from any enemies foreign and domestic, so we’ve sent our legislation to the Senate,” Pelosi said at the Illinois Democrats’ “Democrat Day” event in Springfield. “‘Moscow Mitch’ says that he is the ‘Grim Reaper” … that he’s going to bury all this legislation. Well, we have news for him. All this legislation is alive and well in the general public.”

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has been sharply criticized in recent weeks after he blocked two election security bills that Democrats put forward following former special counsel Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony on Russian election interference. Mueller warned that Russia was already preparing to interfere in the 2020 election “as we sit here,” calling the Kremlin’s efforts “the new normal.” McConnell’s decision the nickname ‘Moscow Mitch,’ suggesting he is giving cover to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has expressed anger about the nickname comparing the attacks to “modern-day McCarthyism.”

Pelosi’s call to action comes as Democrats ramp up pressure the Senate to pass a universal background check bill after the two shootings — one in Dayton, Ohio, and another in El Paso, Texas — left at least 29 dead and 53 injured in a matter of just 13 hours. The Senate is currently in recess until September. McConnell, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, has not signaled he would end the break.

McConnell has also drawn criticism from Democrats for blocking H.R.8, or the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which would create new background check requirements for gun transfers between unlicensed individuals. It passed the Democrat-controlled House in February 240-190.

“We must pass gun violence prevention legislation. Every day we lose lives,” Pelosi said. “We’ve been waiting since February, and now public sentiment must weigh in to save lives to pass our bill.”

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