WASHINGTON – Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the collapse of a deal with President Joe Biden to nominate a conservative, anti-abortion attorney as a federal judge in Kentucky.
Paul accused McConnell of not consulting him in the effort to have Biden nominate Chad Meredith to fill a U.S. District Court vacancy in Kentucky’s Eastern District.
“I support Chad Meredith and supported him when he was considered for a different position. I think he would make a good judge,” Paul told USA TODAY in a written statement. “Unfortunately, instead of communicating and lining up support for him, Senator McConnell chose to cut a secret deal with the White House that fell apart.”
As a result, Paul said, he did not return Meredith’s “blue slip” to the White House, effectively killing the nomination plans.
“McConnell’s to blame for tanking this because he tried to do it secretly,” Paul told Politico Monday.
Paul’s remarks exposed a rift between Kentucky’s two Republican U.S. senators that spoiled a rare opportunity to get a conservative attorney nominated for a lifetime judicial appointment by a Democratic president.
More:Biden abandons plan to nominate anti-abortion, GOP federal judge who McConnell pushed
An adviser to McConnell told USA TODAY the two senators worked together on several judicial and federal nominees when President Donald Trump was in office.
But that opportunity doesn’t exist when the president is from the opposing party. In those circumstances, the president typically chooses the nominee without the home-state senators’ input, said the adviser, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the relationship between the two senators.
Meredith is the type of nominee conservatives would have been overjoyed to see, the adviser said, particularly under a Democratic president and Senate.
“I suspect the White House is relieved; I suspect Dick Durbin is relieved; and I suspect that the political people in the Biden team are relieved that Rand Paul blew this up,” the McConnell adviser said.
“He did them a huge favor.”
Traditionally, home-state senators return what’s known as a “blue slip” to indicate support for federal nominees for district judges.
Republicans abandoned the “blue slip” practice for appeals court judges during the Trump administration but kept it for district court judges. Democrats have kept the same practice.
The White House cited Paul’s failure to return Meredith’s blue slip on Friday in announcing Biden would not formally nominate Meredith to the bench.
As first reported exclusively by the Louisville Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, a White House official informed Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s office in an email June 23 that it planned to nominate Meredith the next day to a U.S. District Court judgeship in Kentucky’s Eastern District.
The next morning, however, the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which ended the constitutional right to abortion. Meredith’s intended nomination was never announced or submitted.
More:Exclusive: Email shows Biden was set to nominate anti-abortion GOP judge on day of Supreme Court Roe ruling
Biden’s planned nomination triggered a strong backlash from Democrats and progressives furious that Biden would choose a Federalist Society member who has argued against abortion access.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., expressed outrage with the pick, saying Biden must have worked a deal with McConnell so he wouldn’t hold up future White House nominations.
McConnell told The New York Times “there was no deal” with Biden to trade a Meredith nomination for other considerations in the chamber and called the president’s willingness to nominate his favored conservative judge the kind of “collegiality” senators used to display.
“This was a personal friendship gesture,” McConnell added.
McConnell also said he was “very surprised” that Paul expressed his opposition to a Meredith nomination.
The McConnell adviser said the GOP leader contacted White House chief of staff Ron Klain in early 2022 and asked about a judicial appointment for Meredith.
The president’s top aide came back saying they were willing to nominate him to the federal bench.
“People can claim whether it’s good or bad, but two guys like Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden – he’s as different from us politically as anything in the world – who would just say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do this,'” the adviser said. “It’s a throwback to a different era.”
Andrew Bates, deputy White House press secretary, declined to comment on the McConnell adviser’s account of events. Klain did not respond to a request to comment.
The adviser said McConnell never offered a deal in return for nominating Meredith, and the White House didn’t ask for anything in return. But he said that for Paul to “sabotage this was stunning.”
Several Senate Democrats said last week that they would vote against a Meredith nomination, raising the prospects of the president’s own party blocking the pick if he moved forward.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not say when responding to a question Monday why Biden planned to nominate Meredith in the first place. She reiterated Paul’s opposition and said she wasn’t aware of McConnell’s claim that the nomination was a “personal friendship gesture” from Biden.
Contributing: Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
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