But Not Because He's A Mensch
Good for Biden, right? Not so fast. It wasn’t necessarily because of pushback against Chad Meredith’s appointment to a federal judgeship that the White House has given up on its latest putrid appointment. Turns out that even if Governor Beshear (D-KY), Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) couldn’t sway him, Rand Paul could! DC politics veteran Carl Hulse had the story yesterday.
Meredith is a McConnell crony and whatever the precise reason— it is hotly disputed— Biden decided to give McConnell his pick— Hulse reported that resistance from fellow Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, is what scuttled the nomination. Hulse wrote that “Paul informed the White House that he would not return a ‘blue slip’ consenting to the nomination of Meredith… 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.” Trump had shit-canned the tradition without so much as a second thought. Biden, an institutionalist, especially when it comes to the Senate, was eager to revive it, even if it was at the expense of women’s Choice, not exactly an issue he has ever been in favor of to begin with.
McConnell is pissed off, but mostly at Rand Paul rather than at Biden. “‘The net result of this is it has prevented me from getting my kind of judge out of a liberal Democratic president,’ McConnell said in an interview, calling Paul’s position ‘just utterly pointless.’ Meredith, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, would have replaced Judge Karen Caldwell, 66, an appointee of President George W. Bush in 2001.”
The little affair “pulled back the curtain on a seldom discussed back channel of communication that remains between McConnell and Biden, who were once negotiating partners in the Senate but who have more recently had little to do with one another as the Kentucky Republican works to sink the Democratic president’s agenda. Still, McConnell said he had persuaded the White House to do him a ‘personal favor’ by putting a young conservative on the bench, only to be thwarted by a Republican colleague.”
Democrats, reported Hulse, are “mystified.” He wrote that “Democrats had made it clear they were displeased with the potential nomination of Meredith, wondering aloud why Biden would have agreed to name a person who opposed abortion rights, and what he might have extracted from Republicans in return. ‘I said, what’s in it for us?’ Senator Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters this week, describing how he pressed the White House on the Kentucky court seat nomination. ‘They haven’t given me a specific answer.’”
There had been various excuses for Biden’s decision floated all last week, most of them obviously nonsense, like a supposed agreement from McConnell to not block Biden’s appointments once the GOP takes over the Senate. But Hulse wrote that “McConnell said that he had made no pledge to the White House to do anything in return for Biden accepting his recommendation, an appeal he made through Ron Klain, the chief of staff. ‘There was no deal,’ said Mr. McConnell, adding that Biden’s consideration represented the kind of ‘collegiality’ and once routine cooperation on home-state judges that has diminished in recent years. ‘This was a personal friendship gesture.’”
Democrats had sharply questioned why Biden would put forward a nominee backed by McConnell, considering that the Republican leader blocked Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick in 2016 and has been a main impediment to the president’s agenda.
New details of the White House arrangement with McConnell also came as internal Democratic negotiations over a major tax and energy policy measure fell apart because of objections from Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia. 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. Representative John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky, was outraged as well. With Biden in the White House, Democrats assumed they— not their nemesis McConnell— would be consulted on home-state nominations.
Beshear also pointed to Meredith’s possible connection to pardons issued by former Gov. Matt Bevin that have come under intense scrutiny, saying any role in those pardons would be disqualifying. But Mr. McConnell noted that Meredith cleared an FBI background check done in preparation for the nomination.
“The FBI check confirmed he had nothing to do with it,” McConnell said of the pardons.
The blockade of Meredith has also disappointed his allies in Kentucky.
… Had it gone forward, the nomination of Meredith would have been a significant departure from the background of judicial nominees the White House has sent to the Senate over the first years of the administration. In contrast to the corporate lawyers and prosecutors traditionally favored by presidents of both parties, the Biden White House has focused on putting forward minorities historically underrepresented on the bench as well as public defenders and lawyers with experience in civil rights law.
McConnell noted that Klain had conceded in their discussions that Meredith was “certainly not the kind of person we would normally nominate,” but the senator argued that the move was simply trading one Republican-backed judge for another.
“It is not giving away a seat,” said McConnell, who said he never discussed the potential nomination directly with Biden. “He’s got bigger stuff on his plate than this.”
McConnell raised the possibility that Paul might have believed that it was his turn to put forward a judicial candidate. McConnell said that the two Kentucky senators had no agreement on such matters and that he doubted Biden would have given Paul the same consideration regardless.
“The president would not have been taking a recommendation from Rand Paul, I can assure you,” said McConnell, who noted his longstanding personal relationship with Biden.
Though the president’s long tenure on Capitol Hill and his past work with McConnell were initially thought to be big advantages, they have not worked out that way for Biden. McConnell has been a persistent obstacle and in recent days threatened to try to block legislation intended to improve American competitiveness with China— a measure McConnell supported— if Biden and congressional Democrats proceeded with a party-line tax bill.
McConnell and Paul have also parted ways on issues over the years. McConnell originally endorsed his Republican opponent during Paul’s initial successful Senate bid in 2010. But despite their break over the judicial nomination, McConnell said he backed Paul’s re-election bid this year.
“Of course,” said McConnell, who hopes to remain party leader, particularly if Republicans claim the Senate majority in November. “On the most important vote, he will be there.”
I asked a Senate Republican staffer if it’s possible Trump was behind this and that he had gotten Paul to pull this little stunt. He said it wasn’t and then he asked me to let him get back to me. I didn’t expect to hear from him about it again but he called me late yesterday and he said he had checked with some of his colleagues and that there was a consensus that it would have been a shrewd way for Trump to strike out at McConnell, who he detests, but that there isn’t anyone around him sharp enough to have suggested that course. No, this was just Rand being a dick,” he said.