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NBC’s Chuck Todd and Fox’s Chris Wallace failed to explain Republican senators’ unprecedented obstructionism of former President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees when discussing a 2013 rule change made by Senate Democrats to forbid the filibustering of judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared on the April 2 editions of NBC’s Meet the Press and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday and declared that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, will be confirmed to the court. The hosts questioned McConnell on whether he would invoke the nuclear option -- a rule change that would eliminate the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees -- if the Democrats filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. Additionally, the hosts pointed out McConnell’s opposition to the rule change in 2013, which he now appears poised to use on behalf of Gorsuch:
CHUCK TODD (HOST): Do you have the votes to change the rules among Republicans? Do you have all 52 Republicans ready to stand behind you, that if the Democrats filibuster Neil Gorsuch, you have the votes to change the rules?
TODD: You're somebody, though, that was very concerned when this rule was changed by Harry Reid for judges below Supreme Court. If you regret what Harry Reid did, why continue down this slippery slope?
CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): You say that he’ll be confirmed one way or the other, so does that mean if you can’t stop a filibuster that you will go to the nuclear option and change the Senate rules so that you can cut off debate with 51 votes and confirm him?
WALLACE: Back in 2013, the Democrats invoked the nuclear option to allow a simple majority, 51 votes, on confirmation of lower court judges. At that time, you said that was a big mistake.
Both Todd and Wallace failed to explain why Democrats changed the rule in 2013. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explained later on Meet the Press, Senate Republicans “had been holding back on just about all of so many lower court judges, including the very important D.C. Circuit,” by refusing to allow votes on the nominees, so Democrats changed the rules to address the emergency and fill vacant seats. However, the Democrats left the filibuster intact for Supreme Court nominees.
Republicans’ refusal to hold a vote on Obama’s nominees was unprecedented. In 2013, political science professor, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, calculated the level of Republican obstruction of Obama’s circuit court nominees and declared it “the highest that’s ever been recorded,” adding, “it approached total obstruction or delay.”
Republicans continued their obstruction of Obama’s judicial nominees after they took control of the Senate following the 2014 elections. As Mother Jones reported in May 2016:
Since taking control of the Senate in early 2015, Republicans have confirmed only 17 federal judges, a historically low number. The Senate confirmed just 11 judges in 2015, the fewest since 1960. There have been only two appellate court judges approved since Republicans took control, with seven appeals court nominations left pending. If the Senate doesn't confirm any appellate judges this year, it will have confirmed the fewest since the 1897-98 session, when there were just 25 circuit court judges nationwide, compared with 179 now. "Historically, we're in nearly unprecedented ground here," says Kyle Barry, director of justice programs at the liberal Alliance for Justice. "What's happening with Judge Garland is really part and parcel with how the Senate has been treating judicial nominees generally. The pace has been so historically bad, we've been seeing what amounts to outright obstruction."
Senate Republicans obstructed until the very end of the Obama presidency. After the Mother Jones article was published, Republicans allowed the confirmation of only three district court judges. In total, the GOP Senate allowed just 20 confirmations -- two appellate judges and 18 district court judges -- during the 114th Congress. By comparison, during the 110th Congress -- the last session of Congress during the George W. Bush presidency -- a Democratic majority confirmed 68 nominations -- 10 appellate judges and 58 district court judges. And Republicans completely blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, from having any public hearings or votes for 293 days.
Todd and Wallace whitewashed history by not presenting the proper context for the debate over Gorsuch’s nomination and the possible implementation of the nuclear option.
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was widely criticized for his racist remarks in which he mocked the hair of an African-American congresswoman, saying it looked like she was wearing a “James Brown wig.” This isn’t the first time O’Reilly has made such comments; in fact, he has a history of saying racist things.
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In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial -- the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.
Fox Spent Years Urging Republicans To Default On The National Debt To Hurt President Obama
Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, Fox News personalities have urged them to use the threat of defaulting on the sovereign debt obligations of the United States government as a means of winning political concessions. With Republicans now in full control of Congress, will the talking heads at Fox finally come to terms with this monumental threat to the global economy and urge the GOP to raise the debt ceiling?
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After President Donald Trump gave a speech to joint members of Congress filled with exaggerations, lies, and policy plans that contained no specifics -- and in many cases were based on propagating fear about and demonizing immigrants -- the takeaway from pundits and talking heads was somehow that he sounded “presidential.”
That's how low the bar has been set. So low that because the president sounded like an adult for an hour and refrained from transparently attacking people of color, allies, or the press, media figures forgot the glaring abnormalities of Trump’s presidency thus far. To some in the media, the speech was a “reset” for the new president.
As soon as he finished speaking, the accolades from pundits began to roll in. Fox’s Chris Wallace said, “I feel like tonight, Donald Trump became the president of the United States.” ABC’s Alex Castellanos similarly said Trump “became president tonight. I think we saw the long-awaited pivot.” MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki claimed that Trump had “a more presidential tone, a more optimistic tone,” and Fox’s Chris Stirewalt said Trump “did sound like the president, look like the president, act like the president.” They weren’t the only ones.
Essentially, the media set the bar so low for the speech that when Trump, the president of the United States, sounded like the president of the United States, it was lauded as a victory.
Not only was that an absurd measure, but the praise delivered by pundits across the broadcast and cable news stations, for the most part, entirely lacked context. One prominent example of this failure was the reaction to Trump’s comments about a slain Navy SEAL officer, William “Ryan” Owens. During his speech, Trump acknowledged Owens’ widow and said that “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.” That portion of the speech was cited by many as a highlight and an “extraordinary moment”:
CNN’s Van Jones: “He became president of the United States in that moment, period.”
Politico’s John Bresnahan: “That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta: “Powerful moment.”
But there’s a lot more to this story. As NBC’s Katy Tur properly noted, while it was an emotional moment in the speech, it “came after Trump seemed to blame his generals/Obama for Owen’s death” just that morning, and after NBC reported that “senior intelligence sources dispute” the White House’s “characterization of [the] raid as a success.” As Tur pointed out, NBC’s reporting “would mean that Trump isn’t being honest with a grieving wife. And that is anything BUT presidential.”
The praise also ignored the actual content of Trump’s address. Those lauding the speech as “normal” ignored what was extraordinarily abnormal about it of it. As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker noted, “President Trump’s maiden address to Congress was notable because it was filled with numerous inaccuracies.” And while large parts of the speech simply featured Trump touting what he’s done so far as president, not much about those actions is normal either. According to a New York Times analysis, most of the significant actions and events in Trump’s presidency thus far have been “abnormal.”
Those praising parts of the speech also seemed unable to acknowledge the startling differences between the Trump who gave that speech and the Trump from just that morning. Some examples:
These remarks, particularly on immigration, served a clear purpose that the fawning punditry seemed to miss. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, talking to a “senior White House official,” reported that the aide said the speech was aimed to be “‘nationalism with an indoor voice,’” and that Trump “backed off exactly none of his previous policies.”
Perhaps because Trump’s speech didn’t indicate any real change in policy, the high praise from the press has apparently even caught some of his aides off guard. According to The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, even “some sources in [the White House] are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech,” noting that “Trump has not changed,” and there is “no big shift in policy coming."
Some sources in WH are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech. Say Trump has not changed, no big shift in policy coming.
— Robert Costa (@costareports) March 1, 2017
It’s not the first time the media has fallen for this ruse. Over the past year, media figures have repeatedly either predicted that Trump would finally start acting more respectable or claimed that it had already happened -- that he had finally pivoted. Yet time and time again Trump has reverted back to his usual style, leaving the media the Charlie Brown to Trump’s football-wielding Lucy.
So yes, Trump may have sounded more like a president than we expected. But a normal-sounding speech isn’t nearly enough to erase the first month of his presidency, which was distinguished by abnormal -- and extremely problematic -- actions, attacks, and rhetoric. With promises of worse to come, it’s crucial that media stop setting the bar so low and start demanding more.
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On February 16, President Donald Trump gave a press conference in which he dodged questions and repeatedly mocked the media. During and after the press conference, right-wing media figures praised his performance, calling him "brilliant," "in control" and "awesome to watch."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries, confirming that Trump and his supporters’ previous public statements expressing their intent to unconstitutionally discriminate against Muslims can “be used in proceedings.” Media Matters has compiled 21 quotes from Trump, his team, his cable news surrogates, and figures on Fox News admitting that the ban’s original intent was to single out Muslims.
Meanwhile, The White House Freeze-Out Of CNN Continues
The Trump administration offered White House senior adviser Stephen Miller -- and reportedly no one else -- to appear on the Sunday morning political talk shows of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox Broadcasting Co. In his appearances on the four shows, Miller repeatedly dodged questions, made blatantly false claims, and attacked the media. Recent profiles of Miller have highlighted his extreme ideological views, his close relationship with Stephen Bannon, and the “enthusiasm” of white nationalists like Richard Spencer over his role in the administration.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace failed to mention any of the constitutional and diplomatic problems with President Donald Trump’s executive action banning visitors, immigrants, and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries in an interview he conducted with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway about the order.
According to CNN, the executive order “bars all persons from certain ‘terror-prone’ countries from entering the United States for 90 days and suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days until it is reinstated ‘only for nationals of countries for whom’ members of Trump's Cabinet deem can be properly vetted.” The executive action impacts immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The order has a religious exception, giving “the Department of Homeland Security leeway to prioritize refugee claims made by people ‘on the basis of religious based persecution.’” Trump himself said he will prioritize Christians refugees over Muslims refugees in an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network.
After Trump’s executive action caused chaos for incoming refugees and immigrants at airports nationwide, a federal judge “blocked deportations nationwide late Saturday of those detained on entry to the United States after” Trump had already signed the order.
Many cable and network news shows on Sunday explained the array of legal and diplomatic problems associated with Trump’s order. NBC’s Chuck Todd questioned the constitutionality of green card holders reportedly also being subject to the executive order. CBS’ John Dickerson grilled White House chief of staff Reince Priebus about the diplomatic backlash of the order from allied countries. ABC’s Terry Moran explained that Trump’s insistence that Christians would receive special treatment is “probably unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.” On CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, ACLU president Anthony Romero gave a thorough explanation of how Trump’s executive order violates international treaties, several clauses and amendments of the Constitution, and federal statutes. And Republican strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro pointed out that the order amounts to -- and is perceived widely as -- a Muslim ban.
Yet Wallace noted none of those constitutional and diplomatic problems in his interview with Conway. He briefly mentioned the judges that temporarily blocked some parts of the order, but neglected to explain why, and allowed Conway to dismiss the effect of the rulings on Trump’s order without any pushback. Watch Wallace’s interview of Conway about the executive order below: