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Senate Democrats Talk Up Supreme Court Changes After Alito Flap
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Senate Democrats Talk Up Supreme Court Changes After Alito Flap

Plus: See the RFK Jr. campaign up close and personal.

Happy Friday! The free world celebrated the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the Allied invasion of Normandy yesterday. Our eyes welled up after watching this video of an interaction yesterday between one D-Day veteran and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Up to Speed

  • Former President Donald Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity released Wednesday that he would have “every right” to go after his political opponents following the guilty verdict in his hush money trial—but that he would not seek retribution. “They’re wrong. It has to stop because, otherwise, we’re not gonna have a country,” he said when asked about critics who say he will want to target political opponents should he win reelection. “When this election is over, based on what they’ve done, I would have every right to go after them, and it’s easy because it’s Joe Biden.” Trump’s comments come after some House Republicans told Dispatch Politics they were open to prosecuting Democrats who allegedly committed crimes.
  • President Joe Biden said in an interview with ABC News Thursday he would not pardon his son, Hunter, if the jury returns a guilty verdict in his trial stemming from the first son’s alleged attempt to procure a firearm while addicted to drugs in 2018. Asked whether he would accept the outcome of the trial and whether he would rule out pardoning his son, the elder Biden answered, “Yes,” to both questions. The younger Biden’s trial began Monday and has continued through the week.
  • Biden’s campaign on Thursday announced it hired a “national Republican engagement director” to win over voters who cast their ballot for Nikki Haley in the GOP primary: Austin Weatherford,  previously the chief of staff to former Rep. Adam Kinzinger. “My goal is to work very hard to convince and persuade those voters that are really smart, really intelligent, that the issues they care about are going to be solved best by President Biden,” Weatherford told NPR. The announcement came as the Washington Post reported that Trump called Haley a “very disloyal person” at a recent fundraiser, saying he will not choose her as his running mate and that he is not worried about her primary voters defecting from the Republican ticket. Last month Haley said she will vote for the former president.
  • Maryland Senate candidate and former Gov. Larry Hogan is skipping the Republican National Convention in July, The Hill reported Wednesday. The news comes after the Trump-critical candidate drew the ire of multiple Trump allies for urging Americans to respect the verdict in Trump’s Manhattan hush money trial. Republican National Committee co-chair Lara Trump said Sunday that Hogan “doesn’t deserve the respect of anyone in the Republican Party.”
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday appointed Trump allies Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Ronny Jackson of Texas to the House Intelligence Committee. The picks drew criticism over Perry’s involvement in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election in favor of Trump and and previous allegations against Jackson of sexual harassment and other misconduct while he served as White House physician during the Trump and Obama administrations. The decision to appoint Perry and Jackson was a surprise to Rep. Mike Turner, who chairs the committee and found out about it through news reports, according to the New York Times.
  • The Georgia Court of Appeals put Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ election interference case against Trump on hold until it rules on whether Willis may stay on in light of her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she appointed to the case. The court’s order practically guarantees the trial will not begin before the November election. Read Thursday’s Collision to learn more

Alito Flag Controversy Has Democrats Itching to ‘Reform’ the Court

Sen. Dick Durbin speaks during a news conference on April 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Sen. Dick Durbin speaks during a news conference on April 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In a letter to Senate Democrats last week, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito tried to tamp down furor over flags flown outside of the Alitos’ Virginia home and New Jersey vacation property. But Senate Democrats tell Dispatch Politics they are unsatisfied with Alito’s response and plan to keep the heat on the Supreme Court this summer by rallying support for legislation that would require justices to recuse themselves under certain circumstances. And while most congressional Democrats have declined to co-sponsor legislation to expand the size of the highest court, they are also declining to take that proposal off the table.

In a May 29 letter to Sens. Dick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse, Alito wrote that his wife flew an upside-down flag outside their home in January 2021 despite his objections: “As soon as I saw it, I asked my wife to take it down, but for several days, she refused. My wife and I own our Virginia home jointly. She therefore has the legal right to use the property as she sees fit, and there were no additional steps that I could have taken to have the flag taken down more promptly.” 

What more could Justice Alito have done at that point? “Perhaps use common sense and take it down himself,” Durbin told Dispatch Politics in the Capitol this week. “I don’t believe him,” Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said when asked the same question. “I think he completely supported it being up.” 

Whitehouse didn’t directly answer the question of what Alito should have done. “You have a Supreme Court justice offering a version of the facts that is inconsistent with other witnesses, corroborated by dates and things like that, which is kind of odd, because, you know, ordinarily, you’d expect a Supreme Court justice to be accurate,” he said, without specifying which claims were inaccurate. 

There was a tense dispute between Alito’s wife and a neighbor over a “F— Trump” sign in the neighbor’s yard that preceded the flag incident, but the neighbor told the New York Times on May 28 that she was the one who called Alito’s wife a c— in February, after the flag incident, while Alito’s May 29 letter said that, at the time, a man “trailed her all the way down the street and berated her in my presence using foul language, including what I regard as the vilest epithet that can be addressed to a woman.”

Senate Democrats say the incident is yet another reason to pursue “reforms” of the Supreme Court. Congressional Democrats are united behind a bill introduced in May 2022 that would mandate when justices must recuse from cases. And while few have signed onto legislation introduced by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts to increase the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to 13, most Democratic senators are unwilling categorically to take court-packing off the table.  

“I haven’t signed onto it yet, but I’m very open to Supreme Court reform proposals,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said of Markey’s bill. “I’m very focused on making sure we reelect Joe Biden, because we can’t afford to have the last president appoint anybody else to the Supreme Court,” Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock said when asked about Markey’s bill. “That’s not something I’m focusing on right now.”

Sens. Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut dismissed the proposal as something they have not pushed for but did not say they will not support the legislation in the future. “I have a number of bills that I’ve been working for, and that’s not one of them,” Whitehouse said. “I haven’t been in favor of increasing the number of justices on the court,” Blumenthal said. In 2021, Blumenthal said court-packing should be “approached with extreme caution” but he hadn’t “ruled it out.” 

While only three senators have co-sponsored Markey’s bill, 63 House Democrats have co-sponsored companion legislation in that chamber. One of those Democrats, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, plans to hold a roundtable on Supreme Court ethics on Tuesday with Whitehouse and New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor this week to accuse senators who wrote letters to Chief Justice John Roberts calling for Alito’s recusal from cases involving Donald Trump of “telling the chief justice privately to change the course of pending litigation.” When Markey’s bill was first introduced, McConnell said the “left wants a sword dangling over the justices when they weigh the facts in every case … the threats are the point.”

RFK Jr.’s Unconventional Campaign Trail

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has the potential to be the most consequential independent presidential candidate since Ross Perot in 1992. But what does a campaign event with the gadfly Kennedy actually look like? Our intrepid David Drucker was in the Denver area late last month to take in the whole RFK experience:

Regardless of  their personal background, political motivations, age, or gender, they were bound together by their saintly reverence for Kennedy, the 70-year-old environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist whose family tree has produced a president, a U.S. senator, and a U.S. attorney general-turned-U.S. senator (his father, Robert F. Kennedy).

To a person, voters The Dispatch spoke with assessed Kennedy the younger to be unfailingly courageous and honest, a breath of fresh air in a campaign featuring two major party candidates whom a majority of voters claim not to want. And they all expressed confidence he can win—despite the fact that he has yet to qualify for ballots in enough states to compete for the requisite 270 Electoral College votes, and that it remains unclear he ever will.

“I love this man. He speaks the truth” said Alan Ingraham, 62, a retired firefighter from metropolitan Denver who voted for neither Biden nor Trump in 2020. “I just pick up from him that he’s telling the truth and he really cares about people.”

“I love this man. I think he’s an honorable person,” added Brigette Bustos, 46, a global communications executive from the Denver area who twice voted for Trump and has not ruled out doing so a third time despite her adoration of Kennedy. “I think America needs him. I’m just not sure that Washington deserves him.”

Drucker observed what appears to be a well-oiled, well-funded machine driving the Kennedy campaign. The Denver “voter rally” was like similar rallies in other states in that it’s a chance for the campaign to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot in Colorado. It was quite a scene, as Drucker details, with plenty of Kennedy nostalgia along with a loose, fun atmosphere:

But the rally would be delayed almost an hour: A long, single-file line of rallygoers snaked to the opposite end of the food hall, in part because of strict security protocols. When they made it inside, they found staff handing out stacks of red, white, and blue “Kennedy Shanahan” signs, which made for a good visual for a clip in an upcoming campaign video. The “Shanahan” in the sign is Nicole Shanahan, Kennedy’s 38-year-old running mate. She’s a successful lawyer who collected a financial windfall as part of the settlement in her 2022 divorce from Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In back was plenty of Kennedy campaign swag, including baseball caps, snow hats, T-shirts, and tote bags in a wide range of colors. Up front were two massive, rectangular screens that read: “Kennedy Shanhan; People Before Politics, Country Before Party.” To warm up the crowd, the screens intermittently played glossy campaign videos that leaned heavily on Kennedy family nostalgia.  

Featured just as much, if not more, than Kennedy the 2024 candidate were old reels of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, assassinated in Dallas in November 1963. And of his father, RFK, the frontrunner for Democratic presidential nomination in June 1968 when he was shot dead by Palestinian terrorist Sirhan Sirhan because of his support for Israel. 

A three-piece rock cover band belted out sentimental hits like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” It was a solid performance, but completely unnecessary: Members of the crowd were already jovial, chit-chatting with each other and taking selfies to commemorate the moment.

Drucker describes the crowd as “a collection of individualists who, in an earlier era, might have been called ‘hippies,’” but also a diverse mixture that included everyone from middle-class families to exemplars of “Hollywood chic.”

“A scan of the, let’s say, more colorful campaign paraphernalia worn by rallygoers included a T-shirt that read ‘F— Trump,’ a baseball cap with the message ‘End DEI,’ and what looked like a homemade button that said ‘Proudly Vegan and Covid UNvaccinated,’” Drucker writes. “But whether liberal, conservative, or iconoclast, they all shared a kind of messianic faith in Kennedy’s ability to cure the myriad ills they are convinced are ailing American society—both medically and psychologically.”

Be sure to read the whole story here.

Notable and Quotable

“They put themselves here for what? Because it was the right thing to do. They were not defending a status quo, they were not gaining territory, they were not here for riches, they were not here to conquer anything. They were really here in order to mend the future.”

—Actor Tom Hanks to CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour in Normandy, France, at the celebrations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

John McCormack is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was Washington correspondent at National Review and a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. When John is not reporting on politics and policy, he is probably enjoying life with his wife in northern Virginia or having fun visiting family in Wisconsin.

Charles Hilu is a reporter for The Dispatch based in Virginia. Before joining the company in 2024, he was the Collegiate Network Fellow at the Washington Free Beacon and interned at both National Review and the Washington Examiner. When he is not writing and reporting, he is probably listening to show tunes or following the premier sports teams of the University of Michigan and city of Detroit.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.