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Week in politics: Reactions to Court nominee; Trump retracts an endorsement in Ala.


The Supreme Court is under scrutiny this week on several fronts. President Biden's nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, faced two days of aggressive questioning from Republican senators on her path to confirmation. The health of Justice Clarence Thomas is in question, as is the political activism of his wife, Ginni Thomas. NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now.

Good morning, Susan.


ELLIOTT: Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia came out yesterday announcing he'll be voting for Jackson's confirmation. Why is that important?

DAVIS: Well, he's a swing vote in the Senate. And it's not really a surprise that he's going to support her. But making it official makes it pretty certain she's going to be confirmed in a few weeks from now. You know, it's still possible that some combination of Republican senators vote for her. We're watching people like Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Maine's Susan Collins. But even without any Republican support, Democrats have Vice President Harris to break a theoretical tie. And, you know, Senate Majority Leader Schumer still wants her confirmed before the Easter break starts on April 11.

ELLIOTT: Let's turn now to Justice Clarence Thomas. First, we should note that he's been ill but has been released from the hospital now.

DAVIS: That's right. He spent a week in the hospital due to an infection of some kind. He was released and sent home Friday. But that's really all the public knows about his condition. The court has declined to offer any more details.

ELLIOTT: So this week, it was revealed his wife, Ginni Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, was in communication with then-President Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, after the 2020 election. In those messages, she is explicitly advocating to overturn the results of the election. What has been the response to this?

DAVIS: So this was first reported by CBS and The Washington Post, but NPR has independently confirmed this, as well. The House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol is in possession of 29 text messages between Ginni Thomas and Meadows. And in these messages, she subscribes to conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from Trump, and she's encouraging the White House and Trump's circle to do everything possible to overturn the election. Now, she also attended the January 6 Stop the Steal rally. But she has said she went home before the attack on the Capitol.

Now, in general, the political activities of a spouse are not used against any sort of sitting elected official or government official. But certainly in this case, it is raising questions about whether Justice Thomas should recuse himself from any cases before the court that are related to January 6 and President Trump's efforts. So far, he has chosen not to. Just last month, the court ruled against Trump's efforts to deny the January 6 committee certain documents. There was one dissenting vote in the case. And that was Clarence Thomas.

ELLIOTT: Is there any recourse in terms of when a judge has to recuse?

DAVIS: You know, yes and no. There is a federal law that applies to all judges that says they should recuse if their impartiality in a case could be reasonably questioned. But historically, there's a lot of deference given to judges on the high court on when they should recuse. There could also be pressure from inside the court. You know, Chief Justice John Roberts does have an interest in maintaining public trust in the court, which is currently pretty low, according to public opinion polls. But if there is any of that internal pressure, the public wouldn't necessarily know it.

ELLIOTT: Former President Trump remains engaged in election politics.

DAVIS: Oh, yeah.

ELLIOTT: He's still trying to undermine the 2020 election. And now he's playing kingmaker in Republican primaries this year. This week, he retracted an endorsement in the Alabama Senate primary. Tell us what's going on there.

DAVIS: So Trump had backed Congressman Mo Brooks, who had been a staunch ally of Trump in Congress. He even spoke at that January 6 rally prior to the attack on the Capitol. But Trump said he couldn't support Brooks anymore because Brooks had advised him to move on from his 2020 election claims. Brooks also wasn't winning in his primary. He was dropping in the polls. And Trump has been very sensitive to picking winners in these races. But what's notable here is Brooks responded with a statement of his own, saying the former president has repeatedly asked him to illegally rescind the election. And this all leads back to that January 6 committee investigating this - Trump's role in the attack. They have not commented on Brooks' statement, but they want to hear from lawmakers who could shed some light on Trump's actions around this time. And Brooks sounds like he's open to an invitation to testify now.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks so much.

DAVIS: Ah, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.