“We have ended an unfortunate fourteen year experiment with partisan judicial filibusters,” U.S. Senator Roger Wicker told the Stennis Press Forum last week in Jackson.  He said the 2003 filibusters against Miguel Estrada of Texas and Charles Pickering of Mississippi “was the first time a partisan filibuster had ever stopped a federal judge of any kind from being elevated to the court to which they were nominated.”

Wicker said the Republican majority’s decision to end filibusters of nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court, which followed the 2013 Democratic majority’s decision to end filibusters of nominations to other federal courts, was a return to the normal order.  “This is why I’m unapologetic and had a spring in my step when we left the Capitol: we are back to where we always were for two hundred years when judges were nominated and they were confirmed and a lot of them were not confirmed. It was done on an up or down vote.” The Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on a vote of 55-45 earlier this month.

Wicker rattled through a number of issues at the luncheon sponsored by the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps and the Stennis Institute of Government including his thoughts on President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, the recent bombings in Syria and issues facing naval pilot training in Meridian.

Wicker said appropriators, like his colleague U.S. Senator Thad Cochran who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, decide how best to spend the money, but they don’t set the budget. Once the budget is set, the appropriators specify the spending.  Wicker believes the Senate can maintain programs that benefit Mississippi – the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority, small airport grant programs and CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) – while keeping spending below the budget line.

On Syria, Wicker said the President was within his authority to launch the cruise missile strike against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea launched 59 missiles against an airbase in Syria from which days prior a chemical weapons attack had been launched. (Both of these guided missile destroyers – The USS Ross and the USS Porter – were constructed at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula and launched in 1996 and 1997 respectively.)

Wicker said while 1,500 Syrians had been killed by chemical weapons during the civil war, more than 200,000 had been killed by conventional weapons. But the international community has determined a legal distinction between the two. “We know Assad is a war criminal and my fondest wish is that someday Assad will be in life imprisonment somewhere for being a war criminal because he is. In the meantime, he is a client of Russia and Iran, and we wish Syria was led by somebody other than Bashar Assad,” Wicker said. Noting that the situation is “complicated” he urged patience as Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson work out a strategy.

Wicker serves as Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Seapower with jurisdiction over naval aviation. Earlier this month, some pilots in Meridian and Pensacola refused to fly their T-45 training jets due to increased problems with “histotoxic hypoxia” apparently as a result of a flaw in the oxygen delivery on the jets. Wicker met with naval leadership as well as pilots. He said he is encouraged that the Navy is taking this problem seriously and will conduct an investigation. Jets have been taken to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland to be disassembled and examined. In the meantime, he supports both the pilots who continue to fly and those who have stopped out of safety concerns.

After a meeting at Naval Air Station Meridian with training pilots and Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker, Commander of Naval Air Forces, Wicker said at a press conference, “What I was hearing from both groups of instructor pilots – the ones who felt that the stoppage was necessary and the ones who were willing to go ahead with flying – is that now a different solution has been undertaken. A couple of these aircrafts – one from here, one from another station – have been flown to Patuxent River, where they will be completely taken apart. A kind of analysis is going to be done that has not been done before. Once the problem is identified, the manufacturers and the engineers will know how to deal with it. But I think we are much closer today, because of what has happened in the past few days, to getting the correct diagnosis.”

Wicker said he was “very, very pleased with the team” President Trump has put together including Tillerson, Mattis, Nikki Haley, Scott Pruitt, Ben Carson, Jeff Sessions, Elaine Chow and Sonny Perdue who Wicker said would be confirmed first thing after the Easter Recess.

Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.