We begin in Albany, where Governor Hochul’s nominee to lead the State’s highest Court finally learned his fate after failing to advance through the Senate Judiciary Committee just over a month ago. Over the past few weeks, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her Democratic colleagues made it clear that they had no intentions of holding a full floor vote on Judge LaSalle, but a recent lawsuit from Senate Republicans forced their hand.
Rather than wait for the lawsuit to wind its way through the courts, Senate leadership—rather quickly and somewhat surprisingly—scheduled a full floor vote where Hector LaSalle was ultimately voted down 39-20, ending the monthlong standoff between Governor Kathy Hochul and her fellow Democrats in the Legislature. It became clear from early in the nominating process that LaSalle would not have the necessary support to pass the full Senate, but the fight soon turned into whether or not a Governor’s nominee is entitled to a full floor vote, and for that, Hochul is claiming victory.
In a statement, the Governor said, “As I have said from the very beginning, the Constitution requires a full Senate vote on a Governor’s nomination for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. While long overdue, the Senate has finally acquiesced to a vote on the floor on the nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle. This vote is an important victory for the Constitution. But it was not a vote on the merits of Justice LaSalle, who is an overwhelmingly qualified and talented jurist.”
Republican Senator Anthony Palumbo, the plaintiff in the lawsuit and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicated he plans to move forward with the lawsuit to ensure the question is settled for future nominations. Senate Democrats’ efforts to throw the case out (based on the fact that Palumbo did get to vote on LaSalle’s nomination) faced stiff questioning from State Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Whelan during a hearing last Friday afternoon. “When one (branch) creates a constitutional logjam — that is in reality a constitutional crisis — it is the duty and the obligation of the judiciary to rule on the constitutional solution,” said Whelan. Considering that Hochul is not a party to the lawsuit, Democrats noted it was difficult to have a “constitutional logjam” within one branch of government. Whelan said he expects to decide on the case this week. Regardless of that decision, the case is likely to be appealed. The natural next Court for that appeal would be the Appellate Division Second Department, presided over by… Judge Hector LaSalle.
“While this was a defeat for the governor, anyone who thinks they can roll her in budget negotiations will be in for a surprise…,” says our Jack O’Donnell.
Now, the Governor will have to go back to the drawing board on a new nominee. Senate Democrats contend the process must start from scratch. They say because state law regards the rejection of a nominee as a vacancy on the bench, the Commission on Judicial Nominations must once again consider applications from candidates and come up with a new list—which could take months. For what it’s worth, the Commission said it would consider previous applications as well as welcome new applicants to expedite the process. However, it is unclear if the Governor will try to expedite the process on her own by picking from the six remaining judges on last November’s list. After the vote of the full Senate, the Governor’s Office said only that she would “work toward making a new nomination.” There will certainly be more on this in the coming weeks.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams was also in Albany on Wednesday for the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Local Governments, unofficially dubbed “Tin Cup Day” where local leaders from across the State head to the Capitol to bargain for more money. Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul have had an unprecedented congenial relationship since they both took their respective offices, but—as we discussed last week—a budget memo prepared by his office shows that Adams is not happy with much in the Executive Budget proposal. Citing Hochul’s plan to increase the number of charter schools, her changes to how the MTA is funded, and the influx of asylum seekers to NYC, the memo argues the city will be hit with a $1.34 billion tab for next year alone. In his testimony, Adams offered, “The Governor’s Budget contains over $1 billion in new cuts and cost shifts to the city starting in Fiscal Year 2024….The City cannot possibly carry the weight of such big commitments without cutting essential programs that support New Yorkers. This is not a threat. This is math.”
After failing to get two of his main priorities in last year’s budget—extended mayoral control of city schools and a rollback of 2019 bail reform laws—and facing the prospect of losing out in this year’s budget as well, Adams has shifted his strategy, increasing his outreach to state lawmakers and has elevated advisors with close ties to Albany, namely the extraordinary former state Senator Diane Savino as well as Ingrid Lewis-Martin (who spent five years as an advisor to Adams when he was in the State Senate), and Camille Joseph-Varlack (a longtime aide to former Governor Andrew Cuomo with extensive State agency experience). The hearing itself was rather uneventful, with Adams testifying for an hour shorter than expected and many Senators skipping the hearing to deal with the unexpected vote on Judge LaSalle’s nomination.
The Super Bowl may be over, but in addition to anticipation of the NFL draft, there is also some political fallout. President Biden did not partake in the traditional interview with Fox News that was set to air just prior to the Super Bowl on Fox Soul, a smaller streaming platform aimed at Black audiences. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre said in a tweet, “The President was looking forward to an interview with Fox Soul to discuss the Super Bowl, the State of the Union, and critical issues impacting the everyday lives of Black Americans. We’ve been informed that Fox Corp has asked for the interview to be canceled.” Fox pushed back, saying their anchors had already flown to D.C. in anticipation of the interview and that the interview with Fox Soul was not contingent on a second interview.
Either way, both sides seemed fine with scrapping the interview and the public finger-pointing is yet another episode in Biden’s relationship with Fox, the country’s largest cable news network. The President has yet to grant Fox News an exclusive interview and was famously caught on a hot mic calling Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy a “stupid son of a bitch”, before later calling him personally to apologize. However, the White House has made a point of calling on Fox reporters in press briefings and has put other administration officials on the network in the hopes of connecting to a more conservative audience. In a succinctly titled article “Biden was Right to Skip Fox’s Super Bowl Interview”, former Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer argued the snub was justified given that “the network employs people who smear him and his family on a nightly basis” in a reference to Fox’s more opinionated late-night shows.
President Biden continued his offensive against the GOP, telling anyone who will listen that Congressional Republicans want to cut Medicare and Social Security. This week it was in Florida, a state with a huge population of seniors, and the home state of Senator Rick Scott who originally proposed a plan that had Social Security and Medicare sunsetting after 5 years. In his remarks, Biden said, “The very idea the Senator from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years I find to be somewhat outrageous, so outrageous that you might not even believe it.” And while Senator Scott was the recipient of Biden’s direct criticism, the larger audience was Governor Ron DeSantis who is still mulling a 2024 Presidential run. Regardless of who his opponent is, Biden is likely to make protecting Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs a central theme of his reelection campaign. When Nikki Haley announced her presidential campaign this past week, the DNC tweeted out a video clip of Haley suggesting cuts to the programs.
If DeSantis is the eventual GOP nominee, Biden will have plenty of ammunition for that line of attack. In Congress, DeSantis voted for the 2013 and 2014 budget proposals that called for cuts to both programs and said in a 2012 interview that he was supportive of reforming and restructuring “entitlement” programs. Former President Donald Trump, the odds-on favorite to win the 2024 GOP Presidential nomination, suggested doing away with the payroll tax which is the main funding mechanism for Social Security. Biden is not squeaky clean on this issue either. He was Vice President when President Obama suggested a suspension of the payroll tax and the administration agreed to a John Boehner proposal that would have cut trillions from these programs, though it did not end up passing. Expect to hear much more about Medicare and Social Security in debt ceiling negotiations and well into the 2024 races.
On the topic of 2024, longtime California Senator Diane Feinstein announced she will retire at the end of her term. Feinstein, 89, is the Senate’s longest-serving member and is widely viewed as a political trailblazer for women in both parties. She served as Mayor of San Francisco before running for the Senate in 1992. At that time, there were only 2 women in the chamber. Today, there are 25.
The primary race to replace Feinstein will be among the most watched in the Country, with prominent California Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter both announcing their candidacy before Feinstein officially announced her retirement. Rep. Barbara Lee also put her hat in the ring following the announcement and the field is expected to grow. California’s “top two” primary system allows for the top two candidates, regardless of party, to advance to a general election.
And finally…Belgium has a wild parakeet problem with environmentalists estimating that 7,000 of the airborne pests call the capital city of Brussels home. When the birds started making their way onto NATO’s military base, headquartered in Belgium, world-class falconers were brought in to dispel the birds from the base. A tip of the cap to Karla White for bringing this important story to our attention!
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