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#MoscowMitch showed us McConnell’s shamelessness — but his ruthless, right-wing court-packing is much worse

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legacy was established long ago, well before he became #MoscowMitch.

McConnell delivered Donald Trump the first major victory of his presidency months before Trump even took office. With his decision to block Merrick Garland — Barack Obama’s pick to succeed Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court — for almost a year after Scalia’s death, McConnell reshaped the future of the nation’s highest court. If Garland had been granted a fair hearings and eventually confirmed to the bench, liberals would have held a voting majority on the Supreme Court for the first time in decades. McConnell has called his unprecedented decision to block Garland, made within hours of Scalia’s passing, the “most consequential” of his political career.

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“I saved the Supreme Court for a generation by blocking President Obama’s nominees and led the way for Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh,” McConnell recently bragged.

Even beyond than his refusal to fill a Supreme Court vacancy during the final year of Obama’s presidency, the majority leader’s biggest impact on the federal judiciary was his stonewalling of Obama’s lower bench appointments.

By the time Trump got to the White House, there were 103 judicial vacancies in the federal courts. Since his inauguration, Republicans led by McConnell have pushed through an astonishing 144 judicial appointments, including 99 district court judges and 43 appellate court judges. Trump has now appointed nearly one of every four federal circuit court judges and 15 percent of all district court judges. In 2019 alone, the Senate has confirmed 13 of Trump’s nominees for the circuit court and 46 district court picks.

This is in large part thanks to significant rule changes ushered in by McConnell, such as diminishing debate time over district-level federal judges from 30 hours to two hours. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first two years of the Trump administration, barred home-state senators from using their traditional “blue slip courtesy” to block judicial nominees. To no one’s surprise, Trump stooge Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who now chairs the committee, has continued this policy.

As a result, Trump has now surpassed Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama in getting federal judges confirmed by the August recess of his third year in office, according to Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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Scott Jennings, a longtime McConnell adviser, recently bragged that the Senate majority leader has “taken on this role as the principal enabler of the Trump agenda.” The Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, who for decades has worked to get conservative judges on the federal bench — and was instrumental in the confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — described McConnell is “the most consequential majority leader, certainly, in modern history.”

With the notable exception of the Supreme Court, most federal judges have consistently rejected Trump’s unconstitutional policies especially but not exclusively on immigration. Now McConnell is trying to change the courts. The Kentuckian clearly understands which way the political winds are blowing: He’s working overtime to fast-track a conservative judiciary that will protect moneyed interests and prevent any leftward legislative progress, even with a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Senate.

Beyond their numbers, the records of McConnell’s right-wing judges is equally as horrifying.

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This multi-generational shift in the federal judiciary has resulted in the least diverse bench in modern history, with not a single black, Latino or LGBT appointee. More than two-thirds of those confirmed are white men, with a median age is 47.5 years. Federal judges serve for life, ensuring that Trump’s legacy will be imprinted on the federal judiciary for the next three to four decades.

Several have exhibited open hostility to immigrant rights, reproductive freedom, voting rights and LGBTQ equality. Among the new circuit court judges is Steven Grasz, who defended a “partial-birth” abortion ban in front of the Supreme Court and was confirmed despite receiving a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association over concerns he would be “unable to separate his role as an advocate from that of a judge.” Another is Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed despite calling Roe v. Wade an “erroneous decision” and reportedly belonging to a private religious group where women are literally described as “handmaids.” John Bush, who once compared abortion to slavery on an anonymous blog, is also now a circuit court judge.

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If Trump and McConnell are re-elected next year — the latter faces a potentially tough battle in the Bluegrass State — they will likely be able to appoint and confirm more than half of all sitting federal judges by 2024.

McConnell has blatantly been willing to let a hostile nation meddle in our elections, but he’s so much more than #MoscowMitch. He has remade the federal judiciary to his own design, with the help of a corrupt and ignorant president. That will seal his legacy as the Senate’s master manipulator.


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Trump has committed 6 impeachable offenses: Harvard Law’s Laurence Tribe says ‘the evidence is all there’

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Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe broke down the six impeachable offenses President Donald Trump has committed during a Thursday appearance on MSNBC's "The Last Word" with Lawrence O'Donnell.

Tribe has argued 36 cases before the United States Supreme Court and taught at Harvard Law for 50 years. He co-authored the 2018 book To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment with Joshua Matz.

"Everyone was in the loop, it was no secret. That was the testimony from Ambassador Gordon Sondland yesterday as he implicated the president, Secretary of State, White House chief of staff, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton and other administration officials in the plot to bribe the president of Ukraine to publicly launch an investigation into Joe Biden in exchange for U.S. military aid to Ukraine that was authorized by Congress and that the president was withholding," O'Donnell reported.

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Rachel Maddow breaks down how public opinion is catching up with the facts of Trump’s impeachment

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MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow on Thursday broke down how the details from the televised impeachment hearings are being reported in local newspapers.

The host read the headlines from multiple newspapers following the damning testimony by Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

The Los Angels Times headlined, "Sonland implicates president." "Envoy says Trump directed effort," was The Wall Street Journal headline.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlined, "'Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret': Defiant Sondland says he followed Trump's orders."

"Trump directed pressure on Ukraine, ambassador says," headlined The Kansas City Star.

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Shep Smith blasts autocrats in first public remarks since leaving Fox News — and donates $500,000 to protect journalists

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On Thursday, for the first time since exiting Fox News, reporter Shepard Smith gave public comments at the International Press Freedom Awards — and used the occasion to blast autocratic leaders who use their power to suppress journalism.

"Intimidation and vilification of the press is now a global phenomenon. We don’t have to look far for evidence of that,” said Smith. "Our belief a decade ago that the online revolution would liberate us now seems a bit premature, doesn’t it? Autocrats have learned how to use those same online tools to shore up their power. They flood the world of information with garbage and lies, masquerading as news. There’s a phrase for that."

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