Vice President Calls the Show to Defend the Budget Deal

Interview courtesy of the EIB & Premiere Radio Networks
RUSH: We welcome back to the program the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence. Welcome back, sir. Great to have you here with us today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Rush Limbaugh, it is an honor to be with you always. Thanks for having me on.
RUSH: If this is what happens, Mr. Vice President, why vote Republican? What is the point of voting Republican if the Democrats are gonna continue to win practically 95% of their objectives, such as in this last budget deal?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, look, respectfully, Rush, I actually think this was, as the president said a little a while ago, I think this was actually a clear win for the American people. Look, you’ve had Washington, D.C., that has been, you know, paralyzed by gridlock and partisan infighting for many years, and in this new president you have someone who was able to bring people together and make a $21 billion increase in defense spending at a time of great challenge for America’s interests around the world. And that’s a — you know, he spoke about that today, surrounded by a lot of great members of the United States Air Force. And it was also a piece for years, Democrats in Washington insisted that any increase in defense spending would be matched with an increase in domestic spending.
So you gotta grow government at home if you’re gonna, you know, invest in our national defense. This ended that. I mean, in a very real sense this was a game-changer because we’re just back to putting the safety, security, and the national defense of the American people first, and I think it sends, having just traveled around the Asian-Pacific representing the president over the last couple of weeks, I think this sends a decisive message to the world that under President Trump’s leadership we’re gonna make the strongest military in history even stronger.
RUSH: If I’m the Democrats, $21 billion, 15 billion for defense that was not originally authorized, that’s a small price to pay for continuing to fund refugee resettlement, continuing to fund Planned Parenthood, continuing to fund sanctuary cities, continuing to fund the EPA, and not build the wall. 

The Democrats clearly think this is a big win, and they’re confident they can block Trump’s agenda after this spending bill for the rest of Trump’s term. There isn’t anything of the president’s agenda in this budget, and people are beginning to ask, when’s that gonna happen? If you’re gonna shut it down in September, why not now?
RUSH: If you complain about 60 votes today, why not go budget reconciliation for 51 votes and smoke ’em?
RUSH: Yes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Rush, let me be real clear. The number one priority of President Trump is to rebuild our military, to restore the arsenal of democracy. And I gotta tell you, to get Democrats in Washington, D.C., to agree to a $21 billion increase in a short-term budget bill — and, you know, the president’s calling for the largest increase in military spending since the Reagan administration in the upcoming budget, I think is no small — it’s no small accomplishment.
Also, this bill includes the largest increase in border security funding in 10 years, with enough, as the president said to make a down payment on a border wall. We’re replacing ineffective and failing fencing and wall with an unbreakable barrier. We’re beginning to build the wall already, and look at the statistics, Rush. Illegal immigration, border crossings, are down more than 60 percent —
RUSH: That’s right. The fear factor. The fear factor is working there, no question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s not fear factor. It’s leadership. You have in Secretary Kelly someone who is acting on the president’s direction. We are enforcing the laws of this country. We’re vigorously removing criminal illegal immigrants from our streets, including these dangerous gang members that are being removed from our major cities. It’s all having its effect. But I want to tell you and your listeners, this budget bill includes the single largest increase in border security funding in 10 years.
Throw in there, Rush, remember, this is an issue you’ve been a great champion of, educational choice for disadvantaged kids for as long as I’ve been listening to you, and it’s just about as long as you’ve been on the air, and President Trump insisted here in this bill and got that we’re continuing the educational choice program here in our nation’s capital, and we’re gonna continue to expand educational opportunities for some of our most vulnerable kids. There’s a lot in here. This is just a five month bill. This is a short term bill that finishes out this year, but I think it demonstrates that, in President Trump’s leadership, the American people once again have a president who can bring together both parties, who can move the ball forward on the priorities of the American people, and when the next budget comes around next fall you’ll see even more of President Trump’s leadership and priorities reflected.
RUSH: Mr. Vice President, we’ve been told this for 15 years, we’ll get ’em next time, after every continuing resolution —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, we got ’em this time.

RUSH: — we’ll get ’em next time, we’ll kick the can down the road, we’ll get ’em next time.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We got ’em this time, $21 billion in defense spending at a time — I gotta tell you, I was out there visiting troops in South Korea. I was standing on the deck of the USS Reagan in the harbor in Japan. Look, the president has made it clear, his number one priority is national defense and national security. And to say in this very first budget bill, instead of getting gridlock, instead of getting a government shutdown, which Washington’s been pretty good at for a while, we actually made process and we’re making a significant investment — (crosstalk)
RUSH: Okay, but why then is the president now suggesting a budget shutdown in September or October? If it’s no good now, why is it good then? You guys were sent there to drain the swamp. 

There’s a clear Trump agenda that just isn’t seeable. It’s not visible in this budget, and some people are getting concerned that there’s more concern for bipartisanship and crossing the aisle, working with Democrats, than there is in draining the swamp and actually peeling away all of the roughage that is preventing actually moving forward here on so many of these issues that affect people domestically.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well, I think people look at the efforts of the last hundred days. I was with the president in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Saturday. It took him an hour just to outline the highlights of the last hundred days. I mean, he signed more bills into law than any president in the first hundred days since Harry Truman. Thirteen different bills rolling back an avalanche of regulation and red tape on businesses across this country, 500,000 jobs have been created since the first of the year. And you mentioned the Planned Parenthood issue. I know that’s emerged. You know, the president recently signed a bill into law that ends the Obama-era regulation that blocks states from banning Planned Parenthood funding. Now states can ban Planned Parenthood funding like we tried to do in the state of Indiana. And of course the health care bill that we hope comes up soon actually defunds Planned Parenthood altogether, while we repeal and replace Obamacare.
RUSH: I did hear that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: This president is fighting every single day —
RUSH: Yeah.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — to advance his agenda, and I couldn’t be more proud to be standing 
shoulder to shoulder with him.
RUSH: Planned Parenthood is in the repeal of Obamacare, the new health care — what’s the status? What is this, if it passes, what are we gonna get?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what you’re gonna get is the beginning of the end of Obamacare and the beginning of a better health care system for the American people. This first bill —
RUSH: What is so hard about finding votes to get rid of something that’s just destroying the health care system?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I mean, the founders of this country created a system where it was hard for Congress to do things. It was also hard for Congress to undo things. And Obamacare has failed. You’ve described it more accurately than anybody else in the country. I mean, every promise of Obamacare has failed. They said if you like your doctor, you can keep it. That was false. If you like your insurance, you can keep it. That was false. They said premiums would go down. Premiums have skyrocketed across the country.

What this bill does is, first and foremost, it repeals the taxes and penalties that are at the core of Obamacare. We expand health savings accounts, which you’ve been a champion of for decades, giving people more choices in consumer directed care. And then we block grant or provide great new flexibility in Medicaid back to the states. And the combination of all of this, I truly do believe, is the beginning of the end of Obamacare. And that’ll take more executive action by Secretary Price. It’s gonna take another piece of bill to sweep the final vestiges of it away and to allow people to buy health insurance across state lines. But Congress has an opportunity right now to literally step back in the direction of a health care system that is based upon the choices of the American people, the ability to choose your doctor, choose your health insurance, and a step away from the government mandated insurance and disastrous results of Obamacare.
RUSH: So we’re still looking at essentially a phase 2 and a phase 3, because I know that one of the plans is for the secretary, Tom Price, to be able to wield the identical power that what’s-her-face had from the Obama administration, that the power in Obamacare is really invested in the secretary of Health and Human Services —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It is. A great deal of latitude. And I’ll tell you, Secretary Price is already about that now. We are working diligently around the clock at Health and Human Services to be poised to work with states to give all new flexibility —
RUSH: Yanking a bunch of Obama things out there that Sebelius put in?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I mean the simple fact is that the power that was vested in the secretary of Health and Human Services to implement Obamacare can also be used to unleash the power of a free market —
RUSH: Right, if you don’t — (crosstalk)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — we’ll have to do one more bill, Rush, to sweep away the remaining vestiges and the president’s vision to let people buy health insurance across state lines. But this is an enormously important first step toward taking the American people back to a health care system that’s based on freedom of choice, freedom to choose your doctor, the free market principles that you and I know will increase quality and reduce the cost of health care in America.
RUSH: I know we’re up to your time limit here, but I gotta ask you if you have time about Kim Jong-un, North Korea. You were just there. The president has expressed a willingness to meet with him under the right conditions. What is the real threat posed by this guy? What are we prepared to do about it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No question that the regime in North Korea represents the most serious threat to security, not only in the region, but in the world today. This is a regime that continues to demonstrate through its actions a flouting of international expectation. I mean, the world community is united in the goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, and yet for a quarter of a century now the Kim regime has ignored and, frankly, deceived the world community through one failed negotiation after another.
And the president’s made it very clear that we are not going to negotiate for the right to negotiate. That we need to see the regime in North Korea abandon their ballistic missile program, abandon their nuclear weapons program, to stand down. And, at that point, in combination with our allies in the region, and in combination with China, or once North Korea has been isolated economically and diplomatically and changed their behavior, then the prospect of discussions could be considered, but not before.
RUSH: I have an idea about this. Apparently, the guy cannot successfully launch anything. The story is that we are hacking the guy’s launches; within seconds after launch, the missiles blow up. Keep doing that ’cause I’m sure every time that happens, he shoots some of his engineers. If you hack enough launches, he’ll shoot his entire government and not have anybody left to threaten with.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Rush, it’s an enormously serious moment.
RUSH: (laughing)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I remember standing at the DMZ looking in the faces of North Korean guards and, uh… And you were literally looking into the face of repression.
RUSH: Oh, totally. They’re robotic evil.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: For now, we have to send a clear message that while we’re committed to work with our allies in the region — to work especially in renewed ways with China — to economically and diplomatically isolate North Korea, but all options are on the table. President Trump is gonna continue to drive toward a policy that achieves a historic goal of removing nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. And now the world knows he means business.
RUSH: Mr. Vice President, thank you for your time. I know we went a little bit over on your allotment, and I appreciate your patience here. Thank you so much. It’s always great to have you here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Rush. It’s an honor. Just appreciate… appreciate your voice in the national firmament.
RUSH: Thank you, sir. That’s Vice President Mike Pence on the EIB Network.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter vows to hold Berkeley event despite university cancellation

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter is vowing to go ahead with an appearance at the University of California at Berkeley next week despite a decision by officials to cancel her planned speech amid safety concerns after politically charged riots and violence in recent months.

It was unclear whether Coulter would follow through with her campus visit on April 27, but it would likely put security officials on high alert and spark another showdown in struggles over campus safety, student views and ideological openness.

“What are they going to do? Arrest me?” she said late Wednesday on the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Coulter said she “called their bluff” by agreeing to rules set by the university seeking to prevent violence.

There was no immediate comment from university officials.

In a letter to a campus Republican group that invited Coulter to speak, university officials said Wednesday that they made the decision to cancel Coulter’s appearance after assessing the violence that flared on campus in February, when the same college Republican group invited right-wing provocateur and now-former Breitbart News senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak.As the protest and clashes escalated during the Yiannopoulos’ event, some began setting fires, throwing rocks and molotov cocktails and attacking members of the crowd.

The violence and damage caused by Yiannopoulos’s invitation garnered national attention and forced officials to put the campus on lockdown. And after the university canceled Yiannopoulos’s talk, President Trump criticized the school and threatened in a tweet to pull federal funds from UC-Berkeley.

The decisions by UC-Berkeley to cancel both events involving high-profile conservatives are especially notable given the campus’s role during the 1960s and 1970s as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement and its long tradition of social protest.

Coulter said in an email to The Washington Post on Wednesday that the university had been trying to force her to cancel her speech by “imposing ridiculous demands” on her but that she still agreed “to all of their silly requirements.” She said she believes that her speech “has been unconstitutionally banned” by the “public, taxpayer-supported UC-Berkeley.”
Coulter said the university insisted that her speech take place in the middle of the day, that only students could attend and that the exact venue wouldn’t be announced until the last minute. She said that she agreed with the conditions but that apparently wasn’t good enough.

“They just up and announced that I was prohibited from speaking anyway,” Coulter said, noting that her speech topic was to be immigration, the subject of one of her books. “I feel like the Constitution is important and that taxpayer-supported universities should not be using public funds to violate American citizens’ constitutional rights.”

A conservative national group that was helping to organize the event, Young America’s Foundation, said Coulter also made demands of her own, including that any students engaging in violence be expelled. In her email, Coulter said she is still planning to give her speech, and YAF spokesman Spencer Brown said she has told them that she plans to appear at Berkeley on April 27.

“If Berkeley wants to have free speech, they are going to get it,” Brown said.

A university spokesman said the school has not been in direct contact with Coulter but conveyed its concerns with the student group that invited her. He said the university was especially concerned that holding the event in the late afternoon would risk protests and potential violence stretching into the evening when the area would get crowded with commuters and students.
Supporters and protesters of President Trump clashed on Saturday, April 15 in Berkeley, Calif. (Reuters)

“Everything we’re doing is so the speaker and students can actually exercise their rights without disruption,” Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. “It’s unfortunate that there are people who think the university’s efforts to keep students and the speaker herself safe are ‘silly.’ ”

On Wednesday, university officials said they hope to reschedule Coulter’s event for sometime in September, and they emphasized that they are not canceling her event because of her controversial nature or sharply conservative views.

“It has nothing to do with anyone’s political views. We believe in unqualified support to the First Amendment. But we also have an unqualified focus on safety of our students,” Mogulof said. “We are going to be making a concerted effort to explain the reasons behind this.”

The decision to cancel Coulter’s speech came drew sharp criticism from some on the campus, such as Robert Reich, a Berkeley professor who served as Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton.

“This is a grave mistake,” Reich wrote in a Facebook post. He said universities should “do everything possible to foster and protect” free speech, writing that students should be allowed to hear Coulter’s arguments and question them.

“It’s one thing to cancel an address at the last moment because university and local police are not prepared to contain violence … It’s another thing entirely to cancel an address before it is given, when police have adequate time to prepare for such eventualities,” he said.

On Saturday, protests again turned violent — though in the city of Berkeley, not the university campus — as pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters clashed in the streets. The violence on Saturday was further heightened later in the day as far-left activists and far-right activists joined the fray.

And on Tuesday at Auburn University in Alabama, three people were arrested amid protests and a fistfight that occurred over a speech by self-proclaimed white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.
Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at Auburn University Tuesday, April 18. His visit sparked protests that turned violent and led to three arrests. (YouTube/Ryan Crumpler)

At Berkeley, university officials said the recent violence has caused them to rethink where and when to hold such events. In their letter, university officials also partly blamed the college Republican group for inviting Coulter and setting a date for the event — April 27 — without consulting the university.

Officials learned of Coulter’s event, the letter said, from reading about it in newspapers. And after consulting with university police, officials said, they could not find a venue available on that date that would allow them to protect Coulter, the audience and bystanders.

Brian Murphy contributed to this report, which has been updated.

75-Year-Old Vet Acquitted of Illegally Hanging Napkin-Sized Flags at West LA Veterans Affairs Office

Rosebrock was cited on Memorial Day 2016 for allegedly displaying two napkin-sized American flags on a fence near the entrance to the Veterans Park.

A 75-year-old military veteran was acquitted Tuesday of illegally hanging an American flag on the fence of a Veterans Affairs facility in West Los Angeles without permission.

The federal misdemeanor count against Robert Rosebrock stems from a VA statute that prohibits the posting of materials or "placards'' on a VA property except when authorized by the head of the facility.

Rosebrock was cited on Memorial Day 2016 for allegedly displaying two napkin-sized American flags on a fence adjacent to the "Great Lawn Gate'' entrance to the Veterans Park. He and fellow veterans have been assembling at the site nearly every Sunday and Memorial Day for the past nine years to protest what they believe is the VA's failure to make full use of the expansive property for the benefit and care of veterans, particularly homeless veterans.

At the conclusion of a bench trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim found Rosebrock not guilty of the violation, which carries a maximum six-month prison sentence. The judge concluded that no evidence was presented showing Rosebrock lacked permission to post the flags or that Rosebrock had displayed them in the first place.

Homeless activist Ted Hayes, dressed as Uncle Sam in a red, white and blue outfit, joined about two-dozen observers in Kim's courtroom in downtown Los Angeles. Military veteran Gene Simes, national chairman of a Rochester, New York-based veterans advocacy group, stood in uniform at attention with a folded flag under his arm during the proceeding.

The gallery burst into applause at the judge's ruling.

Rosebrock said outside court that he was "honored that the flag was exonerated -- and for once the veterans got a victory.''

Rosebrock initially faced two additional counts for allegedly taking unauthorized photos of a VA police officer at the VA's Great Lawn Gate without permission.

However, in a pretrial decision, Kim ruled that the regulation, as applied to the Great Lawn, was not reasonable under even the most lenient First Amendment standard.

The VA argued that the statute was necessary to guard against invasive and distracting media activities and to protect veterans' privacy. But the court rejected that claim, finding that if the VA wanted to protect veterans' privacy, it would ban all photography, not just photography for news, commercial or advertising purposes.

Tharaldson hits billionth gallon of ethanol, announces expansion

CASSELTON, N.D. — Tharaldson Ethanol on April 5 quietly marked its 1 billionth gallon of fuel ethanol production. The Casselton, N.D., company also announced it will increase annual production this year, making it the sixth largest ethanol producer in the United States.

They'll increase by 180 million gallons — a 7 percent increase this year, but up 38 percent from its original design in 2008. The increase will be due to some changes in fermenters and cooling towers. The investment is expected to cost $2.5 million to $3 million.

Gary Tharaldson is owner of Tharaldson Motels II, Inc., of Fargo, which built the plant nine years ago. The plant grinds roughly 60 million bushels of corn a year, about 90 percent of which comes from a 60-mile radius of the plant.

"We're good for the area — good for the farmers; they're good for us," Tharaldson said, accompanying visitors for a tour of some new construction on the day of the milestone. Tharaldson said the plant's success allows it to be a good community citizen. The company recently announced it will put $1 million into Casselton Public School's athletic facilities.

Initially, the hotels were funding the ethanol industry foray, but now it's the other way around.

Tharaldson is a self-made businessman. He started buying motels in 1982 and has built more than 400 motels. He sold one portfolio of 200 hotels to the employees. He built another portfolio of 143 motels and sold them to Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., in 2006 for $1.3 billion and used some of that cash to build the ethanol plant in 2008.

Initially, Tharaldson consulted with Harold Newman, a Jamestown, N.D., billboard marketer who, with his family, owned and ran the Alchemy Ltd. ethanol plant at Grafton, N.D.

"He was always telling us what a good deal ethanol was back in those days," Tharaldson said.

Ethanol plants then were making $1 a gallon profit. Casselton had rail, natural gas and access to water through Fargo.

Ryan Thorpe, chief operating officer of the ethanol company, said the plant is among the top 10 percent for efficiency and profitability in the country.

"It's all about continued improvement every day," Thorpe said. "We want to be the low-cost producers. North Dakota this year produced as much corn as Ohio. The technology has come a long way—the farmers, the seed companies."

Cutting cost
Ryan Carter, general manager for the plant, said the plant is already in the top 5 to 8 percent of the country's ethanol plants for efficiency, measured by cost per gallon of ethanol and ethanol per bushel of corn.

Since 2011, the company has improved from 46 cents a gallon in production costs to 27 cents. The addition may yield an additional 1 percent efficiency, which involves both the ethanol and corn oil and distiller's grains. A penny a gallon increase is $1.8 million.

Along with improving efficiency, the company also increased output, climbing in 2013 from 130 million gallons to 153 million gallons, followed in 2016 by an increase to 168 million gallons.

The company in 2016 also socked $25 million into replacing the dryers they'd initially installed.

"Initially, we'd tried a new technology (for distillers grain) drying that is used in the sugar beet industry — a fluidized steam bed dryer," Thorpe explained. "They're very efficient and it would have been a game-changer for the ethanol industry if we'd gotten it to work. We tried it for a year, but distillers grains have a different bulk-density than beet pulp and we had to — unfortunately — scrap that dryer." They installed drying equipment made by ICM Inc., of Colwich, Kans.

Dried distillers grains make up about 20 percent of Tharaldson Ethanol's revenues. The distillers grains are a co-product that starts out at 68 percent moisture — two-thirds water — and must be dried to about 10 percent moisture.

DDGs generally trade at about 85 to 90 percent of the value of standard No. 2 yellow corn. In the past, the DDGs have been as high as 130 percent of the corn price. The ratios are affected by the trade and production policies of countries like China, Thorpe said.

The plant has made money in all but 2009 and 2012 — two years out of nine. The most profitable years were 2013 and 2014 when corn was at its most expensive, he said.

"The price of ethanol is more a function of the price of gas and how people are driving," Thorpe said.

Tharaldson operates 35 hotels and has nearly 60 under various stages of development. The ethanol plant contributes to 20 to 25 percent of the equity the company needs for new motels, if he opens 20 new hotels a year, he said.

"We want to have 40 opened by the end of the year and 120 opened within four years," Tharaldson said. "The next four years are heavy growth years for us."

After that, will there be an ethanol expansion? Perhaps elsewhere?

Thorpe says the company is unlikely to expand production at Casselton again. It might be possible to expand elsewhere, but the company isn't actively seeking those opportunities.

The future looks bright, he said.

President Donald Trump has made statements supporting the ethanol industry.

"I envision he will keep that promise," Thorpe said, adding that the current oversupply of corn in the U.S. and the world makes ethanol fuel "the cheapest molecule you can put in your fuel tank."

Sixth largest ethanol plant
With its latest expansion, Tharaldson Ethanol of Casselton, N.D., will rank sixth among plants of its type in the U.S., although competitors often make similar expansions.

Production figures are often private, but here are ratings published in trade journals:
1) ADM — Cedar Rapids, Iowa: 515 million gallons.
2) ADM — Decatur, Ill.: 365 million gallons.
3) ADM — Columbus, Neb.: 350 million gallons.
4) Cargill — Blair, Neb.: 190 million gallons.
5) ADM — Peoria, Ill.: 185 million gallons
6) Tharaldson — Casselton, N.D.: 180 million gallons.

Gorsuch heads for confirmation as Senate tears up own rules

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a confrontation that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations, Republicans tore up the Senate's voting rules Thursday to allow Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the high court over furious Democratic objections.

Democrats denounced the GOP's use of what both sides dubbed the "nuclear option" to put Gorsuch on the court, calling it an epic power grab that would further corrode politics in Congress, the courts and the nation. Many Republicans bemoaned reaching that point, too, but they blamed Democrats for pushing them to it.

"We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court," declared Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

"This is going to be a chapter, a monumental event in the history of the Senate, not for the better but for the worse," warned Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior Republican.

A final confirmation vote on Gorsuch is expected Friday, and he should be sworn in soon to hear the final cases of the term. He was nominated by President Donald Trump shortly after the January inauguration.

The Senate change, affecting how many votes a nominee needs for confirmation, will apply to all future Supreme Court candidates, likely ensuring more ideological justices chosen with no need for consultation with the minority party. Trump himself predicted to reporters aboard Air Force One that "there could be as many as four" Supreme Court vacancies for him to fill during his administration.

"In fact, under a certain scenario, there could even be more than that," Trump said. There is no way to know how many there will be, if any, but several justices are quite elderly.

Even as they united in indignation, lawmakers of both parties, pulled by fierce political forces from left and right, were unwilling to stop the confirmation rules change.

The maneuvering played out in a tense Senate chamber with most members in their seats, a rare and theatrical occurrence.

First Democrats tried to mount a filibuster in an effort to block Gorsuch by denying him the 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote. That was successful only briefly, as Gorsuch fell five votes short. 

Then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., raised a point of order, suggesting that Supreme Court nominees should not be subjected to a 60-vote threshold but instead a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell was overruled, but he appealed the ruling. And on that he prevailed on a 52-48 party-line vote. The 60-vote filibuster requirement on Supreme Court nominees was effectively gone, and with it the last vestige of bipartisanship on presidential nominees in an increasingly polarized Senate.

The developments were accompanied by unusually bitter accusations and counter-accusations. And yet in many ways the showdown had been pre-ordained, the final chapter in years of partisan warfare over judicial nominees.

In 2005, with the Senate under GOP control, Republicans prepared to utilize the "nuclear option" to remove the filibuster for lower-court nominees. A bipartisan deal at the time headed off that change. 

But then in 2013, with Democrats in charge and Republicans blocking President Barack Obama's nominees, the Democrats did take the step, removing the filibuster for all presidential appointments except the Supreme Court.

McConnell accused Democrats of forcing his hand by trying to filibuster a highly qualified nominee in Gorsuch, 49, a 10-year veteran of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver with a consistently conservative record.

"This is the latest escalation in the left's never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet, and it cannot and will not stand," McConnell said.

But Democrats were unable to pull back from the brink, partly because they remain livid over McConnell's decision last year to block Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, who was denied even a hearing after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Instead McConnell kept Scalia's seat open, a calculation that is now paying off for Republicans and Trump.

Even as Graham and other senior Republicans lamented the voting change, McConnell and some allies argued that all they were doing was returning to a time, not long ago, when filibusters of judicial nominees were unusual, and it was virtually unheard-of to try to block a Supreme Court nominee in that fashion. Even Clarence Thomas got onto the court without a filibuster despite highly contentious confirmation hearings involving sexual harassment claims.

Some senators fear that the next to go could be the legislative filibuster, one of the last remaining mechanisms to force bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine 
and Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware were circulating a letter to colleagues Thursday in support of keeping the filibuster in place for legislation.

With his final vote set for Friday, Gorsuch counts 55 supporters: the 52 Republicans, along with three moderate Democrats from states that Trump won - Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. A fourth Senate Democrat, Michael Bennet from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado, refused to join in the filibuster Thursday but announced he would vote against Gorsuch's confirmation.
Associated Press writers Mark Sherman and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
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Chuck Berry, Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Dies at 90

Image: Berry

Revolutionary blues singer Chuck Berry, often referred to as the "poet laureate" and "father" of rock 'n' roll, died Saturday, police in Missouri said. He was 90.

Officers responded to Berry's home outside St. Louis on Saturday afternoon and found him unconscious, the St. Charles County police said on Facebook. First responders were unsuccessful in reviving him and pronounced him dead at 1:26 p.m. local time. 

One of the first inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Berry wove together beguiling narratives, fusing rhythm and blues with country and western — transfixing the nation.

Ted Nugent's amazing tribute to the legendary Chuck Berry.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton called Berry "one of the 20th Century's most influential musicians."

Known for chart-toppers such as "Johnny B Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," Berry's career rocketed in the 1950s after signing a record deal with Chess Records at the behest of musician Muddy Waters, according to Rolling Stone.
In this Oct. 17, 1986 file photo, Chuck Berry performs during a concert celebration for his 60th birthday at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Mo. James A. Finley / AP
His first hit, "Maybellene," spent nine weeks in the No. 1 spot on the Billboard R&B chart and also rose to No. 5 on the pop charts. Berry reshaped the 1950s with a unique sound that appealed to both sides of a racially divided country.
"I made records for people who would buy them. No color, no ethnic, no political — I don't want that, never did," Berry told the New York Times in 2003.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said in a statement Saturday that Berry "created the rock sound."

"Chuck Berry is rock and roll. The undisputed original poet laureate, he influenced every rock and roll artist after him and every guitarist that ever plugged in," hall of fame President and CEO Greg Harris said in a statement.

"Today, we celebrate his poetry, his artistry and his massive contributions to 20th century culture," Harris said. It's fitting that he was the first person inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Rock and roll as we know it would not exist without him. Hail Hail, Rock and Roll. Hail Hail, Chuck Berry."

Many of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll have cited Berry as an inspiration thanks to his earworm tunes.

John Lennon once said: "If you had tried to try and give rock 'n' roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck 'Berry.'"

The Twitter account run by Lennon's estate was among those paying tribute to the legendary musician Saturday. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr also expressed his condolences: "R I P. And peace and love Chuck Berry Mr. rock 'n' roll music."

Leonard Cohen believed, "all of us are footnotes to the words of Chuck Berry," while Bob Dylan dubbed him the "Shakespeare of rock 'n' roll," Peter Guralnick recalled in Rolling Stone in October 2016.

Berry's signature duck walk was adopted by the likes of admiring bands such as The Who and AC/DC.

Despite mesmerizing the country with his infectious hooks and rhythm, he was temporarily pulled from the spotlight in 1959 when he was arrested for violating the Mann Act by driving an underage girl across state lines from Texas to his native Missouri, according to Biography.com. He spent two years in federal prison.

Chuck Berry New Year's Eve Concert
Chuck Berry performs at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on Dec. 31, 2011 in New York City. Bobby Bank / WireImage
As a teenager, Berry — born Charles Anderson Edward Berry to Martha and Henry Berry in St. Louis — was convicted of an armed robbery and spent 1944 to 1947 in reform school.
After his release, Berry worked an assembly line and studied cosmetology, before finding his place in American history with a guitar in his hands and a captain's hat on his head.

Later in life, Berry would serve another prison stint after running into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, Rolling Stone reported.

But he would always return to the stage, even as he aged, playing shows into his mid-80s.

On his 90th birthday, Berry announced he was releasing his first LP in 38 years, slated to hit stores this year. He dedicated the album to his wife of 68 years, Themetta "Toddy" Berry, whom he is survived by.

Trump promises 'renewal of American spirit' in Congress speech

 US President Donald Trump addresses Congress in Washington, DC on February 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/JIM LO SCALZO)

President Donald Trump took his first mission-critical trip down Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday to address a Joint Session of Congress, telling his political opponents that 'the time for small thinking is over, the time for trivial fights is behind us.'

At that very moment, a member of the Democratic Party hissed. 

But Trump's 60-minute speech drew 94 interruptions for applause, including a sustained, tear-jerking 
ovation for the widow of a Navy SEAL killed in action just eight days after Trump took office. 

As Carryn Owens wept and Ivanka Trump comforted her, Trump said her husband Ryan was happy that the lengthy applause 'broke a record.' 

The slain sailor's father made headlines last week when he said he had refused to speak with the president when his son's remains were returned to the U.S. in a somber ceremony. He also blasted Trump for green-lighting what he called the 'stupid mission' that claimed Ryan's life.

But the president praised Ryan as 'a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation.'  

'Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity' Trump said. 'For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom. We will never forget Ryan.' 

Trump began Tuesday night with a claim on the role of political peacemaker, saying he wanted to bring Americans who voted for him together with those who didn't.

'I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart,' he said.

That followed a stunning condemnation of anti-Semitism and other hatred.

Trump declared that the close of Black History Month led him to remember 'our nation's path toward civil rights and the work that still remains.'
Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a Nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.
President Donald Trump 
'Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a Nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.'

Some of Trump's other rhetoric was full of hopeful Kennedyesque loft – notable after four contentious weeks marking the beginning of the president's Washington odyssey.

'Think of the marvels we can achieve,' Trump urged, speaking of his still-incubating science reform proposals, 'if we simply set free the dreams of our people, cures to illnesses that have always plagued us are not too much to hope.'

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Treasury Steve Mnuchin and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson applaud the president's address 'American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream. Millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect. And streets where mothers are safe from fear, schools where children learn in peace, and jobs where Americans prosper and grow are not too much to ask.'

Trump, 70, was predicting a safer and more prosperous world when America celebrates its 250th birthday in 2026. He noted the centennial celebrations in 1876 where 'the country's builders and artists and inventors showed off their creations' in Philadelphia.

'Alexander Graham Bell displayed his telephone for the first time. Remington unveiled the first typewriter. An early attempt was made at electric light,' he mused. 'Thomas Edison showed an automatic telegraph and an electric pen.' 

On Tuesday they joined the GOP in applauding Trump's condemnation of the ISIS terror army as 'a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs.'

There was no such bipartisan appreciation when the president boomed the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.'

The degree to which Trump has polarized Washington could be seen on the faces of lawmakers, and in the reactions of TV hosts Joe Scarborough and Sean Hannity. Both men were guests of congressmen.

Hannity, a Fox News conservative, applauded and roared as Trump outlined his agenda. MSNBC's Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who now mocks the White House daily, scowled and shook his head.

Trump called on Tuesday for Congress to 'increase funding for our veterans,' pass 'historic tax reform' for middle-class Americans, make good on his campaign pledge to 'repeal and replace Obamacare,' help soften the financial burden of child care, and 'help ensure new parents have paid family leave.'

His speech also included a demand that the government 'invest in women's health' and 'promote clean air and clean water and rebuild our military infrastructure.'

And Trump boasted that 'by finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone.' 

Trump's domestic policy prescriptions were led by his death prognosis for the Obamacare medical insurance overhaul experiment.

'Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for America. The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do,' he pledged.

'Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor, and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been broken.'

Trump said he will support retaining one aspect of the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that patients with pre-existing medical conditions can't be denied insurance coverage.

He also demanded 'a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the healthcare exchanges.'

The president challenged Congress to develop a plan that will use tax credits and 'Health Savings Accounts' to give Americans a broader choice of plans – including those offered by insurance companies in other states.

Trump also planted a stake in the ground for school-choice advocates, saying that 'education is the civil rights issue of our time.'

He asked Congress for an education bill 'that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children.'

'These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them,' he said.

Another dramatic moment came when he acknowledged Jamiel Shaw, the father of a 17-year-old boy who was 'viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member who had just been released from prison.'

Shaw, along with a group of 'Angel Moms' who lost children in similar attacks, was a fixture at Trump campaign rallies.

Next to him sat the widows of two police officers 'gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record and two prior deportations.'

The central philosophy of the president's economic and foreign policies is the 'America first' agenda he promised would guide him in his inauguration speech.

On Tuesday he sat comfortably with that idea, making the case that the U.S. should look inward to enact some of the solutions it has spent generations

'For too long, we've watched our middle class shrink as we've exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries,' he said.

'We've financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit – and so many other places throughout our land.

'We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross -- and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.

'And we've spent trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.'

Trump painted his own political rise as the antidote, saying that last year 'the earth shifted beneath our feet' as a quiet conservative counter-culture became a 'loud chorus' and then a political 'earthquake' of millions who elected him.

Later he declared that while 'America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path,' his own job is 'not to represent the world: My job is to represent the United States of America.'

More members of Congress – including a nearly full complement of Democrats – heard Trump's message Tuesday in person than anything the brash billionaire had said previously.

Following a rash of Democratic boycotts of his January 20 inauguration, only one – Rep. Maxine Waters of California – announced that she would purposely skip Tuesday's speech.

The far-left partisan reportedly said during a Democratic Caucus meeting that any lawmaker 'who can't sit still shouldn't go.'

Others, including New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, said they would attend but go out of their way to avoid shaking Trump's hand – something few members of Congress get close enough to do.

Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, known for hogging an aisle seat every time President Barack Obama delivered a State of the Union speech – the better to be seen on TV shaking his hand – said through a spokesman that she didn't plan to repeat the effort.

New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, another Democrat, was also fond of sitting on the aisle so he could share a few words with Obama once a year.

But as Trump turned the page and builds his own relationship with Congress, Pascrell told Fox News: 'I will not take an aisle seat.'

Trump entered the House chamber to raucous cheers from the GOP and polite claps from Democrats.

He pumped a fist, straightened his blue-and-white striped tie, and acknowledged more than five minutes of sustained applause. Another ovation came after House Speaker Paul Ryan pounded a ceremonial gavel and introduced him

The occasion of a president's first speech before the entire federal legislature and most of his cabinet – one member always stays away as a 'designated survivor' in case of the unthinkable – is a 'State of the Union' address in all but name.

On Tuesday that honor went to Veterans Administration Secretary David Shulkin.

Trump's main job Tuesday and in the days that follow is to give his administration a booster shot of enthusiasm.

Many of the key issues in the president's stable, all campaign rally standards, had lost their luster in the corrosive air of government.

His once-rock-solid pledge to begin repealing and replacing Obamacare on the first day of his presidency ran into the buzz saw of internal Republican politics, with warring factions disagreeing about whether the two halves of the promise need to happen simultaneously.

Trump's prepared remarks include a firm marker, however, demanding 'reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time provide better health care.'

'Mandating every American to buy government approved health insurance was never the right solution for America,' Trump said.

'The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance and that is what we will do.'

Trump once vowed to rebuild America's 'decimated' military, but the reality of cutting $54 billion per year from domestic spending to pay for it has drawn jaundiced stares on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle.

Even his signature issue – illegal immigration – has seen the Trumpian bravado quieted into a quietly whispered cascade of maybes.

On Tuesday afternoon multiple sources in a lunch meeting the president held with television anchors said he made an overture to Democrats about an immigration reform proposal.

'The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,' he reportedly said.

Those words hung in the Washington air for hours on Tuesday as pundits and lawmakers alike wondered if Trump was ready to embrace the kind of 'Gang of Eight' compromise he mocked during the Republican primary season.

A law offering some illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status – or even citizenship – was the sort of sausage-making that made Marco Rubio's path to the White House impossibly fraught.

His first move may be to lower the bar for so-called 'DREAMers,' people illegally brought to the U.S. years ago when they were children.

Trump called their situation 'very, very difficult' during a press conference just a dozen days ago.

'To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids ... they were brought in here in such a way. It’s a very, very tough subject,' he said, while emphasizing that some of them have turned criminal and should be deported.

The president's campaign persona emphasized a one-size-fits-all approach, saying last August that every illegal immigrant would have 'to return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else,' as part of his bid to 'break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration. 

There is a long tradition of the party out of power sitting out applause lines thrown at them by the president during a speech they are forced to watch on camera.

Democrats on Tuesday took their opposition to a new level. When the president got announced and entered the chamber, dozens of Democrats stood, but kept blank expressions on their faces and refrained from clapping.  

Even when Trump made non-controversial statements about lowering prescription drug costs, many Democrats sat on their hands.

There were a few holdovers from the traditional theater that comes with the speech.

When First Lady Melania Trump first entered the chamber – after an awkward interlude where she stood without waving – the chamber erupted into a big round of applause with approving yells.