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Week in politics: Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed as justice; Russia sanctioned

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The week for history in Washington, D.C., as the Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, the first Black woman on the nation's highest court.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: We have come a long way toward perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.

SIMON: That was Judge Jackson at the White House yesterday. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The confirmation hearings, as I don't have to tell you, were divisive, and so was the vote - 53-47, almost entirely along party lines. Ron, since this confirmation was mathematically assured for a few weeks, why didn't more Republicans, a number of whom had voted to confirm the judge as a district and then appellate court judge, just embrace the moment from history and vote for a confirmation?

ELVING: We did know last month that all the Democrats would vote for her. That meant she'd have at least 50, and Vice President Harris could have broken the tie. But it took a while for those few Republican votes to emerge and make her confirmation somewhat bipartisan. A lot of Republicans had dug in and announced against her. It had become increasingly difficult to say you were going to vote for her. It's increasingly difficult to win a primary for the Senate as a Republican in a red state if you vote with a Democratic president for anything, but especially for a Supreme Court nomination. Lately, we've seen much more partisanship in that process. Senators now feel enormous pressure to support or oppose justices for their views or their past decisions on a handful of hot-button issues, principally abortion, of course, but also same-sex marriage and transgender rights and other divisive social issues.

SIMON: Of course, three Republicans did vote to confirm the judge. And I want to ask you about Mitt Romney of Utah, who could be seen prominently standing and applauding in the Senate chamber after the vote on Thursday. What do you make of that moment?

ELVING: It made a rather entertaining moment on C-SPAN - all the Democrats standing and applauding for an unusually long time after the roll call was announced while almost all the Republicans were marching off. Romney, however, kept clapping and smiling and looking increasingly lonely on his side of the aisle. At one point, Ted Cruz, senator from Texas who's been a leading Jackson antagonist, stood up and buttoned his suit jacket and stalked out of the chamber, crossing in front of Mitt Romney, who was still applauding.

If you're a Senate junkie, Scott, that's the kind of minor drama moment you live for. But let's remember; Romney was the only Republican senator to vote for Trump to be removed from office in the first impeachment in 2020 and the second in 2021. He was the only one to do it twice. On Justice Jackson, there were the two other votes from the Republican side, from Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Both have been known to vote for abortion rights in the past, setting them apart from their party colleagues.

SIMON: And there was some agreement, a 100-to-nothing vote to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine - two votes, in fact. Tell us about them.

ELVING: The main win stripped Russia of what's called most favored nation trade status - something of a misnomer, really, because it's normal access, really. It's just average trade status with lower tariffs and fewer other barriers. Taking that away is a big deal, though. It costed a lot of Russians a lot of money. It will cost money for people who use Russian oil and gas and other resources. The second was a ban on imports of Russian oil, which had been paused already. We weren't depending on Russia's oil for much, but it was a part of the mix of our supply, and it was also a model for other countries. So usually when you see that tally of 100 to 0, you might think it was a meaningless vote, a commemorative or an apple pie resolution. It's rare to see unanimity on anything of real importance.

SIMON: Unfortunately, you can answer this next question with one word. Did Congress leave town without a COVID relief package extension?

ELVING: Unfortunately, yes.

SIMON: (Laughter) That was two words, but that's all right. NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.