Rep. James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American member of the House, compared his ability to work with President Donald Trump to his relationship with Strom Thurmond, the longtime segregationist senator from South Carolina.
“Strom Thurmond and I were good friends,” Clyburn said Tuesday, despite Thurmond’s attitudes on race.
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Clyburn was responding to a question about whether he would be able to work cooperatively with Trump on issues of bipartisan interest. In response, Clyburn — a Democrat from South Carolina — noted his history of working with Thurmond.
Clyburn described Trump as “an American” who “carries certain American values that are anathema to most black people.”
Asked to clarify his comments on Trump, Clyburn said, “There are certain values that certain Americans have that are anathema to me as a black person. Strom Thurmond had ’em.”
“But you still worked with him anyway?” a reporter replied.
“Hell yeah,” Clyburn said.
Clyburn said he could support tax reform proposals from Trump if they don’t disproportionately favor the “investor class.”
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) on Tuesday told The Hill that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) should “absolutely” recuse himself from his panel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s election.
Jones, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who frequently bucks leadership, is the first Republican in Congress to call on Nunes to step aside.
“How can you be chairman of a major committee and do all these things behind the scenes and keep your credibility? You can’t keep your credibility,” Jones said just off the House floor.
“If anything has shown that we need a commission, this has done it by the way he has acted. That’s the only way you can bring integrity to the process. The integrity of the committee looking into this has been tainted.”
Jones is the only Republican co-sponsor on a measure from Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) that would establish an independent commission to probe Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Nunes on Tuesday brushed aside calls to recuse himself, asking why he should.
“I don’t care what Mr. Ryan says. That’s his right to feel that way. I know how the people out here feel,” Jones said. “When you have a committee chairman that bypasses the committee and goes to the White House, when you have a president that has a cloud over their head, that’s not smart.
“What Mr. Nunes has done is make it more political. Not less political, but more political.”
Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed to the Supreme Court on April 7, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell guaranteed on Tuesday.
“He’ll be on the floor of the Senate next week and confirmed on Friday,” McConnell told reporters. “We are optimistic that [Democrats] will not be successful in keeping this good man from joining the Supreme Court real soon.”
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The cagey Senate majority leader refused to say that he would do it via the “nuclear option” — a unilateral change in rules to kill the Senate’s 60-vote threshold on Supreme Court nominees. But McConnell also declined to rule out whipping 50 of his 52 members to change the rules if Democrats deny Gorsuch the required 60 votes to end a filibuster.
“We’re going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed,” McConnell said. “It’ll really be up to [Democrats] how the process to confirm Judge Gorsuch moves forward.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded that it’s unfair for McConnell to heap blame on Democrats for a rules change, arguing that President Donald Trump should have picked a less conservative nominee.
“It’s going to be on [McConnell’s shoulders and only on his shoulders. Let’s not forget,” Schumer said. “This is the man who broke 230 years of precedent and held Judge Garland up for a year and a half and now is complaining? Doesn’t really wash.”
House Republicans were out in force Tuesday insisting they’re not giving up their push to repeal and replace Obamacare. Privately, though, they’re nowhere near a consensus on how to move forward.
After Friday’s fiasco — when Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the House GOP health care plan because he didn’t have the votes — Republicans on Tuesday vowed to come up with a Plan B. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters some lawmakers who opposed the bill wanted to continue talks to get to “yes.”
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“We’re going to keep talking to each other until we get it right,” he said during a press conference with reporters.
But lawmakers and aides acknowledge the odds are not in their favor. The conference is still deeply divided, and members are seething over the demise of their replacement bill — with most fingers pointing at the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus.
During a meeting with several dozen whips Monday night, Republican allies of leadership vented about how they want to punish members of the conservative group who “don’t play with the team.” Some lawmakers spoke of “primary-ing” conservatives; others brought up stripping subcommittee gavels from those who opposed the bill. Across the hall at the same time, the House GOP’s freshman class discussed banning from its meetings and events any first-termers who opposed the Republican health care plan.
“There should be consequences for their actions,” said one GOP whip leaving the room Monday night. “Is this group ever going to get to yes?”
House leaders, however, believe retaliating would only undercut any attempt later to revive the health care push. Ryan urged his members during a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning not to take out their anger on the Freedom Caucus, but instead to refocus their energy on finding an alternative that can pass.
The efforts by Republican leaders to re-open health care negotiations came after Trump gave House Republicans an alternative last week: Pass the bill Friday, or live with Obamacare. But after a brutal weekend of press coverage — of all things, how could the Republican Party blow the one issue they’ve been campaigning on for seven years? — Republicans came back this week saying they’re not ready to give up yet.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Tuesday that talks with lawmakers are in the formative stages. “Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time,” he said.
Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has also been in touch with moderates and conservatives to see if he can help facilitate an agreement.
It’s unclear where they’ll go from here, though. Multiple senior Republican sources and lawmakers it’s unlikely Ryan would put the same bill on the floor. Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady concurred with that sentiment, telling POLITICO “we’re moving on” from the current draft.
The Texas Republican, who helped write the tax portion of the repeal and replacement plan, suggested the Senate take up the health care torch now: “There are two chambers in Congress. Senators have had plenty of ideas on what the House should do on health care. Now it’s their turn to mark up the budget reconciliation instructions and send it. … They have the ability to do that right now.”
Others, however, disputed that notion, saying the House would have to pass a “shell” reconciliation bill, allowing the Senate to fill it in with their own policy. House Republicans probably wouldn’t do that because it would mean giving up their own leverage in crafting an Obamacare replacement.
Meanwhile, Freedom Caucus members who were previously hard “no’s” on the Republican bill said Tuesday that they believed they can still strike a deal with moderates. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who opposed the GOP alternative, said he is confident the Freedom Caucus “can work out a deal” that’s “more than 17 percent popular.” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said “we’re within striking range of agreement” and advised to “wait a few days.”
Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) says he’s been in talks with members of the moderate Tuesday Group, including Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), to come up with a plan.
“Everybody want story find a way to get this passed and we’re gonna work real hard to do that,” Meadows said.
One Republican aide dismissed such discussion as deflection on the part of the Freedom Caucus. Though the group has been cited as a main culprit for the collapse of the Republican health care play, Freedom Caucus spokeswoman Alyssa Farah has noted that just as many moderate members were against the bill as conservatives were.
Trump has blasted the group numerous times on Twitter the past few days, claiming that the group “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”
“They’re feeling the heat. The president is tweeting at them everyday,” said a Republican source.
Ryan, for his part, would not blame the group publicly.
“The speaker was saying, our conference does need to come together,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally. “We do know it was the Freedom Caucus that caused this to go down. But our leaders today are saying let’s not isolate — they didn’t even use the word Freedom Caucus — let’s not isolate certain members. Let’s figure out a way to come together.”