News Brief: Day 2 Of Kavanaugh Hearings, 'NYT' Anonymous Op-Ed, Gay Sex In India

Sep 6, 2018
Originally published on September 6, 2018 2:58 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How would Brett Kavanaugh consider cases before him on the Supreme Court?

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BRETT KAVANAUGH: I base my decisions on the law, but I do so with an awareness of the facts and an awareness of the real-world consequences. And I've not lived in a bubble, and I understand how...

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's nominee was picked from a list provided by a conservative legal group. He was chosen by a president who promised while running that his nominees would overturn the right to abortion. But in Senate testimony, Kavanaugh says flatly...

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KAVANAUGH: I have no agenda in any direction. I'm a judge.

MARTIN: And he testified that while on the court, he would be part of a nine-person team. Democrats, of course, see Brett Kavanaugh differently. They pressed the Supreme Court nominee on his record on issues like gun control, abortion and executive power.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley has been listening to the testimony. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you feel you learned much about the nominee yesterday?

HORSLEY: Not a great deal. Republicans probed Judge Kavanaugh's thoughts on regulation, which is something he has ruled a lot on in his role as appellate court judge here in Washington. He insisted he is not anti-regulation, just anti-illegal regulation.

And then, as Rachel said, Democrats pressed him on things like abortion and affirmative action. He generally defended his record as open-minded. And on the question of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, he acknowledged that that is a precedent that carries a lot of weight for some people, but he declined to say whether he thought the law - the case was properly decided. And he generally ducked questions about how he would actually rule on issues that might come before him.

INSKEEP: And he also did not, ultimately, answer a series of questions from Kamala Harris, California senator, former prosecutor. And you can hear the prosecutor with - in this bit of tape that we're going to play here, because Harris is asking if Kavanaugh has ever discussed the Robert Mueller investigation with a particular lawyer. Let's listen to some of this.

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KAMALA HARRIS: Have you discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz, Benson and Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer? Be sure about your answer, Sir.

INSKEEP: This went on for some time. And you have the nominee essentially saying, well, who is it that you're asking about? Can you refresh my memory? And Harris saying, well, I think you know who I'm talking about, but you don't want to say. What was going on there?

HORSLEY: It was a sort of tantalizing cat-and-mouse game, and you're not really sure if there's any actual cheese involved. It came near the end of yesterday's marathon session. In the end, we did not get an answer from Kavanaugh to Senator Harris' question, but it may be something she returns to in the second round of questioning today.

INSKEEP: What did he give people, if anything, when asked about how he would rule if confronted with cases involving President Trump, the man who has nominated him?

HORSLEY: There were a lot of questions about this, both from Democrats and Republicans. There were suggestions that perhaps the judge's expansive views on presidential power and presidential immunity were keys to his nomination. He told Senator Grassley, the committee chairman, that no one is above the law in our system. And he spoke approvingly of past Supreme Court justices who ruled against the presidents who picked them. But he declined to say whether, for example, a president could trade his pardon power for the silence of an associate, or even pardon himself.

INSKEEP: Just so we're clear here, Scott, he said no one is above the law. But hasn't he written that he has decided that it seems inappropriate to investigate a president too much?

HORSLEY: He did. But he said yesterday that that was really guidance for Congress - whether the Congress should grant the president immunity, not a view of how judges should behave in that circumstance.

INSKEEP: OK. Scott, thanks as always. Really appreciate it.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley.

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INSKEEP: One-word tweet, punctuated - treason? That was from the president of the United States yesterday just after The New York Times, in an unusual move, published what it described as an anonymous column written by someone within the administration.

MARTIN: Yeah. The writer describes this network of officials working behind the scenes to protect the nation from its own president. Trump responded in much the same way that the White House has been reacting to the new book by Bob Woodward that we talked about yesterday - attack the author and the publication.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The failing New York Times has an anonymous editorial. Can you believe it? Anonymous, meaning gutless. A gutless editorial. We're doing a great job.

MARTIN: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the anonymous author of the op-ed a, quote, "coward" who should resign.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson is covering this story, and she's on the line. Hi there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So I mean, we can talk about the anonymity of the op-ed, but there's actually a lot of anonymous sources in the administration who've said essentially the same thing. We're saving this man from himself. We're saving the country from this man. We're trying to make things not as bad.

LIASSON: Yes. This is of a piece with the Woodward book and a lot of other reports that we've heard from inside the White House. And in some ways, this could validate Donald Trump's complaints about the deep state. You know, these bureaucrats in the federal government actively working against him. In this case, it's not very deep. I wrote a piece recently about - it's the shallow state. It's just the officials right below him.

But this piece really does seem designed to make him even more angry and paranoid - just the kind of behavior the anonymous author says he or she wants to present - prevent. There was even a poke in the eye in the editorial - in the op-ed piece, saying that John McCain was a lodestar for restoring honor to public life. Donald Trump can't like that very much.

And it really raises a lot of questions. Why not go public? Why not work through legal, constitutional channels? If you really think the president is unstable and amoral, resign and tell Congress. This is an unelected public official who says that they are protecting the country from the president.

INSKEEP: Any clues as to who that official might be?

LIASSON: There are over a thousand senior administration officials - in other words, Senate-confirmed officials. We don't know if this person works in or out of the White House. There's been tremendous speculation, obviously, in the White House and all over Washington about who this might be. The op-ed was pretty slickly written. There's been speculation. Maybe it's somebody who was a speechwriter. It almost reads as if a screenwriter wrote a movie about the Trump administration that's filled with cliches about unsung heroes and adults in the room.

So we don't know who the person is who wrote it, but there is a message here saying, don't worry, Republicans. We've got the mad king under control. You can still have your conservative judges and tax cuts.

INSKEEP: And there's an implication that it's a quite-senior person, since the person refers to whispers within the cabinet of applying the 25th Amendment at one point...

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: ...That suggest very, very senior discussions were overheard by this person. Bob Corker, Tennessee senator, no big fan of the president, one of those commenting. What did he say?

LIASSON: Well, Bob Corker said this is the situation that we've known about from Day 1. He said, this is why we need to encourage good people around the president to stay. In other words, he doesn't want anybody resigning. But this can't be the way that our founders intended the Constitution to work.

INSKEEP: The way it's written is if there's really a problem with the president, Congress can remove the president.

LIASSON: Congress can do something about it.

INSKEEP: And the cabinet can, as well, by the way.

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

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INSKEEP: Let's go to India now, where there's been a groundbreaking ruling for gay rights.

MARTIN: Yeah. India's Supreme Court has struck down one of the world's oldest laws criminalizing consensual gay sex. This law dates back to 1861, and it outlawed any sex that goes, quote, "against the order of nature." The law, though, has mostly been used by police, criminals or blackmailers - by police to nail or to harass men for having same-sex intercourse. The chief justice of India's Supreme Court called the law, quote, "irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary."

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Frayer covers India. She's been following this story. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi there.

INSKEEP: How did people respond to this ruling?

FRAYER: I spent the morning on the lawn of the Supreme Court, where activists have gathered from around the country. And when judges announced that ruling under the court's big ivory dome, here's what it sounded like outside as the news hit people's cellphones.

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FRAYER: So you hear cheers there, and some celebration. I also saw quite a few tears of joy. I spoke with a lesbian who had traveled all the way from northern India. Her name is Alice Changsan (ph). She's 21 years old, and she was weeping as I interviewed her.

ALICE CHANGSAN: I'm really happy. I can't really contain myself. That's why I just broke out into tears. We fought for this for such a long time, and it's about time. Like, this - and it's finally happening in Syria because it's like, I don't know. It's just a lot to take in. But, yeah. I'm so happy about it.

INSKEEP: You know, the story of this law, Lauren, is reminding me of the story of blasphemy laws in neighboring Pakistan, where you have this law that's on the books. It's not uniformly enforced, but often when it is, it turns out to be somebody with a vendetta - somebody who wants to get somebody else, and so they accuse them of blasphemy. You have something similar going on here, it sounds like.

FRAYER: That's true. I mean, people are scared. If they have been a victim of crime, and they are gay, they can't go to the police because, you know, if there are - they're worried that the police will be - arrest them.

This has been, you know, decades of activism to overturn this law. But it's been a nine-year court battle. And it went back to 2009, the Delhi high court struck down this law. Then, the same court changed its mind in 2013 and reinstated it. And the current case was filed earlier this year.

Dozens of plaintiffs, including Bollywood film stars, business leaders - among them, one man that I met, who was actually prosecuted under this law. His name is Arif Jafar. He was arrested in 2001 for handing out condoms to gay men. He was charged with abetting criminal activity.

INSKEEP: Wow. What does the decision mean in a day-to-day sense for people of - same-sex people in India?

FRAYER: Well, it means massive parties at gay bars across India tonight. I mean, people are very excited. They think this is long overdue. One couple I was interviewing started talking about marriage. You know, I almost witnessed a proposal there.

INSKEEP: Wow.

FRAYER: But activists say they're going to focus on fighting discrimination, which is still widespread here - fighting for workplace benefits for same-sex couples, for example.

INSKEEP: OK. Not the end of the fight then. Lauren, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.