2/5/2019 12:24:00 PM Trump judicial pick: 'I cringe' at past remarks on date rape and equal rights
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Brett Kavanaugh on a high-profile appeals court said Tuesday she cringes at some of the language she used as a college student in writing about sexual assault, race and equal rights for women.
Neomi Rao told the Senate Judiciary Committee that writings in which she criticized affirmative action and suggested that intoxicated women were partly responsible for date rape do not reflect her current thinking.
“I like to think I’ve matured as a thinker, writer and a person,” she said at a confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Trump nominated Rao for the seat left vacant when Brett Kavanaugh joined the Supreme Court.
Rao, who currently serves as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said there were “certainly some sentences and phrases” from her college writing in the 1990s that “I would never use today.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who recently revealed she was raped by her boyfriend as a college student, said Rao’s writings “give me pause,” in part because of the message they send to young women who may be reluctant to report a rape, as Ernst was.
Rao called rape a “horrible crime” and said anyone who commits rape should be prosecuted. Her comment that women should stay sober to avoid placing themselves at risk was merely “common sense” advice that her own mother gave her, Rao said.
Rao, 45, worked in the George W. Bush White House but has never tried a case in state or federal court.
She told senators that “perhaps I was idealistic” in writing opinion columns that were intended to be provocative.
Liberal activists and some Democrats have seized on Rao’s writings, in which she also derided LGBT rights as part of a “trendy” political movement and questioned the science behind global warming.
Rao said she believes in equal rights for women and LGBT people and said she believes in the “overwhelming” scientific consensus that climate change is real.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said he was less interested in Rao’s college writings than in her current work at the White House, where she plays a key role in Trump’s efforts to roll back federal rules and regulations.
Whitehouse said he believes Rao has worked to protect corporate interests, polluters and the National Rifle Association.
Rao said she and Trump have successfully pushed deregulation that “gets government out of the way” and helps small businesses and other companies create jobs.
Dan Goldberg, legal director of the left-leaning Alliance for Justice, called Rao’s writings “deeply troubling,” especially on sexual assault.
Goldberg and other critics said Rao’s writings can be directly connected to her work at the White House, where she oversees Trump’s bid to dismantle rules that protect the environment, consumers and workers. Trump says the rules destroy jobs and stifle economic growth.
If confirmed, Rao “will have power to impose these narrow-minded views for decades and turn back the clock and destroy rights and protections that millions of Americans rely on,” Goldberg said.
Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, called Rao a “rape apologist” and said her promotion to the D.C-based appeals court, widely viewed as the nation’s second-most important court, would endanger women.
Rao’s nomination is particularly troubling since it comes just a few months after sexual assault accusations against Kavanaugh in hearings that riveted the country, Patel said.
“Barely a few months after the country heard from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford about sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, a rape apologist could potentially fill his seat on the D.C. Circuit,” she said.
In a 1994 opinion column, Rao wrote: “Unless someone made her drinks undetectably strong or forced them down her throat, a woman, like a man, decides when and how much to drink. And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice.”
A good way to avoid a potential rape “is to stay reasonably sober,” Rao added.
She also said Yale has “dedicated itself to a relatively firm meritocracy, which drops its standards only for a few minorities, some legacies and a football player here or there.”
And she said a decades-long struggle for LGBT rights was part of “trendy political movements” that “have only recently added sexuality to the standard checklist of traits requiring tolerance.”
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, focused on Rao’s role at the White House.
“Neomi Rao has led the Trump administration’s efforts to abolish regulations protecting consumers, the environment and students,” Feinstein said. One rule in particular, to increase fuel economy standards for cars, is based on a law Feinstein co-authored.
The American Bar Association said Monday it has deemed Rao “well-qualified” for the appeals court.