WASHINGTON — The White House is dropping plans to appoint a Kentucky lawyer who opposes abortion rights and is backed by Sen. Mitch McConnell to a federal court seat, citing opposition from Sen. Rand Paul, the colleague of Mr. McConnell’s home state.
Resistance from fellow Republican Mr McConnell marked a new twist on a potential nomination that had sparked outrage from the left. Democrats were furious that President Biden’s team agreed to bring forward a conservative chosen by Mr. McConnell to fill a vacancy on the district court as the party ramps up efforts to counter new abortion restrictions.
Potential nominee Chad Meredith had successfully defended Kentucky’s anti-abortion law as a state attorney. Mr. Biden’s plan to appoint him was made public by the Louisville Courier-Journal just before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade which established the right to abortion.
Mr. McConnell, the Minority Leader, who has a deep interest in shaping the federal justice system, said the White House intends to follow through on its commitment to appoint Mr. Meredith until Mr. Paul opposes it. Mr. Paul informed the White House that he would not return a “blue slip” consenting to the appointment of Mr. Meredith, who is now in private practice.
The blue slip tradition followed by the Senate Judiciary Committee effectively gives home state senators veto power over the selection of federal district court judges for their states.
“In reviewing potential District Court nominees, the White House has learned that Senator Rand Paul will not be returning a blue slip on Chad Meredith,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. “Therefore, the White House will not appoint Mr. Meredith.”
The result left Mr. McConnell frustrated and some Democrats perplexed. He pulled back the curtain on a rarely discussed back channel of communication that remains between Mr. McConnell and Mr. Biden, who were once negotiating partners in the Senate but have more recently had little to do with each other so that the Kentucky Republican is working to sink the Democratic president’s agenda.
Still, Mr McConnell said he had persuaded the White House to do him a “personal favour” by benching a young Tory, only to be thwarted by a fellow Republican.
“The net result of this is that it prevented me from getting my kind of judge from a liberal Democratic president,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview, calling Mr. Paul’s position “utterly unnecessary. “.
Mr. Meredith, a member of the conservative federal society, would have replaced Judge Karen Caldwell, 66, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001. Last month, she announced her intention to take the status of senior magistrate, a decision that would reduce his workload while creating a vacancy to fill in the White House. She gave no specific date for her departure, which could depend on who is chosen to replace her.
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Mr. Paul’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the disclosure by Mr. McConnell and the White House.
But Democrats had made it clear they were unhappy with Mr Meredith’s potential nomination, wondering aloud why Mr Biden would agree to nominate someone who opposes abortion rights, and what he could have extracted Republicans in return.
“I said, what’s in it for us?” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters this week, describing how he lobbied the White House for the nomination for the seat of the Kentucky court. “They didn’t give me a definite answer.”
Mr McConnell said he made no promises to the White House to do anything in return for Mr Biden accepting his recommendation, a call he made through Ron Klein, the chief of staff.
“There was no deal,” Mr. McConnell said, adding that Mr. Biden’s consideration represented the kind of “collegiality” and once-routine cooperation with home state judges that has declined in recent years. “It was a personal gesture of friendship.”
Democrats had hotly questioned why Mr Biden would put forward a nominee backed by Mr McConnell, considering the Republican leader blocked Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick in 2016 and has been a major stumbling block to the president’s agenda.
New details of the White House’s arrangement with Mr McConnell also came as internal Democratic negotiations over a major tax and energy policy measure collapsed due to objections from Sen. Joe Manchin III, Democrat of Virginia- Western. Republicans, who unanimously opposed the measure in the Senate, were celebrating.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, had called the impending nomination “indefensible” and urged the White House to drop the idea. Rep. John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky, was also outraged. With Mr. Biden in the White House, Democrats assumed they – and not their archenemy Mr. McConnell – would be consulted on nominations from home states.
Mr Beshear also pointed to Mr Meredith’s possible connection to pardons granted by former Governor Matt Bevin which have come under scrutiny, saying any role in those pardons would be disqualifying. But Mr. McConnell noted that Mr. Meredith had passed an FBI background check conducted in preparation for the nomination.
“The FBI check confirmed he had nothing to do with it,” Mr McConnell said of the pardons.
Mr Meredith’s blockade also disappointed his Kentucky allies.
“He’s one of the most ethical people I’ve met in terms of watching him in the limelight in the last few years,” said April Wimberg, president of the Louisville chapter of the Federalist Society. “I was very surprised that anyone, and especially Senator Paul, opposed him.”
Had it been brought forward, Mr. Meredith’s nomination would have been a significant departure from the background of judicial nominees the White House sent to the Senate during the administration’s early years. Unlike the corporate lawyers and prosecutors traditionally favored by presidents of both parties, the Biden White House has focused on highlighting historically underrepresented minorities on the bench as well as public defenders and lawyers with experience. civil rights law.
Mr McConnell noted that Mr Klain had conceded during their discussions that Mr Meredith was “certainly not the kind of person we would normally appoint”, but the senator argued that this decision was simply to exchange a judge backed by Republicans against another.
“It’s not giving away a seat,” said Mr. McConnell, who said he never discussed the potential nomination directly with Mr. Biden. “He’s got more on his plate than that.”
Mr. McConnell raised the possibility that Mr. Paul thought it was his turn to nominate a candidate for the bench. But Mr. McConnell said the two Kentucky senators disagreed on those issues and that he doubted Mr. Biden would have given Mr. Paul the same consideration regardless.
“The president would not have accepted a recommendation from Rand Paul, I can assure you,” said Mr. McConnell, who pointed to his longstanding personal relationship with Mr. Biden.
Although the president’s long tenure on Capitol Hill and his past work with Mr. McConnell were initially seen as big pluses, they didn’t work out that way for Mr. Biden. Mr. McConnell has been a persistent obstacle and has threatened in recent days to try to block legislation to improve US competitiveness with China – a measure supported by Mr. McConnell – if Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats proceed to a tax bill in line with the party.
Mr. McConnell and Mr. Paul have also parted ways over issues over the years. Mr McConnell originally endorsed his Republican opponent during Mr Paul’s successful initial Senate bid in 2010. But despite their break with the judicial nomination, Mr McConnell said he supported Mr Paul’s re-election bid This year.
“Of course,” said McConnell, who hopes to remain party leader, particularly if Republicans claim a majority in the Senate in November. “On the most important vote, he will be there.”