Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws
One of President Trump’s controversial circuit court nominees on Thursday withdrew his nomination amid GOP opposition shortly before an expected vote in the Senate.
Ryan Bounds’s appointment to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals appeared to be in trouble on Thursday afternoon as the Senate delayed holding a vote on his nomination even after he overcame a procedural vote the previous day.
A final vote was expected to start at 1:45 p.m., but instead Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came to the Senate floor around 2:30 p.m. to say that the vote had been called off.
“The nomination will be withdrawn,” McConnell said in announcing his decision to cancel the vote.
If Republicans had pushed forward with the vote, Bounds’s nomination would have failed after Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the lone Republican African-American senator, told leadership that he could not vote for Bounds’s nomination on Thursday.
Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate. With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) absent as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer, McConnell would have needed the support of every GOP senator to confirm Bounds. No Democrat was expected to support his nomination.
Scott declined to say why he wouldn’t support Bounds if his nomination had received a vote on Thursday. But he emphasized that he needed more time and more information from the nominee.
“I was taking my time to go through all of the material,” he told reporters. “The information I had was insufficient for me to be a ‘yes’ vote.”
A Republican source familiar with the matter said that Scott raised concerns about Bounds’s college writings with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who told Scott he would vote “no” with him.
The source added that Rubio and Scott’s potential no votes “broke the dam” and with additional Republicans weighing voting against the nomination it was instead withdrawn.
A Republican senator familiar with the matter also said that Scott notified GOP leaders that he wanted more time to review Bounds’s racially insensitive remarks and to have a chance to speak to people who knew him personally.
“Sen. Scott needed more time to talk to people who knew him and that’s not available. Sen. Scott said he couldn’t vote for him today if the vote was now. I support him in that decision,” Rubio told reporters.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) confirmed that he understood Scott objected to the nominee because of racially insensitive comments in the past, but had not spoken to Scott directly.
Grassley, however, said that Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had discussed the issue thoroughly with Bounds and had satisfied their own concerns.
“He didn’t know that was thoroughly discussed with the nominee in our committee,” Grassley said of Scott’s participation in the vetting.
Scott declined to say if Bounds’s previous writings were why he could not support Trump’s nominee on Thursday. He also declined to say when he found out about the writings.
Scott is not a member of the Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for vetting judicial nominations and which advanced Bounds’s nomination on a party-line vote.
He said he began voicing his concerns to leadership on Wednesday and talked to Bounds on Thursday. He separately spoke at a closed-door lunch on Thursday to tell his colleagues he needed more information before he could vote to confirm Bounds.
“I had not tried to convince anybody to do anything. I just shared my thoughts, and others said they were willing to join and ask for more information so we could have a better picture,” Scott added.
Bounds’s nomination had been under fire from Democrats and allied outside groups because of decades-old writings that voiced skepticism about race-focused groups and questioned the need for diversity training.
In one writing, Bounds questioned the strategies used by “more strident racial factions of the student body.”
“I am mystified because these tactics seem always to contribute more to restricting consciousness, aggravating intolerance and pigeonholing cultural identities than many a Nazi bookburning,” he wrote.
In another article he compared diversity training to a “pestilence.”
Bounds apologized for the writings during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, saying he used “overheated” language.
“I share the concerns of many that the rhetoric I used in debating campus politics back in the early ’90s on Stanford’s campus was often overheated, overbroad,” he said during his hearing in May.
Scott’s objection strikes a blow to the frantic pace Republicans have set as they’ve confirmed nominees to the circuit court.
Republicans view judicial nominations as their best shot at having a decades-long impact, arguing Democrats will work to undo key legislation when they retake the congressional majority.
Bounds, if he had been confirmed, would have been Trump’s 24th appeals court nominee approved by the Senate.
Republicans broke the record set under President George H.W. Bush for the number of appellate judges confirmed during an administration’s first two years, giving Trump his 23rd appeals judge on Wednesday.
But Democrats seized on Bounds because, they said, he would have been the first circuit court nomination confirmed when both home-state senators refused to return their “blue slip.”
The “blue-slip” rule — a precedent upheld by Senate tradition — has historically allowed a home-state senator to stop a lower-court nominee by refusing to return a sheet of paper, known as a blue slip, to the Judiciary Committee.
But how strictly the precedent is upheld is decided by the Judiciary Committee chairman — in this case, Grassley — and enforcement has varied over the years.
Both Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) announced last year that they would not return their blue slips for Bounds, who they argued misled their selection committee by concealing his controversial writings.
“His nomination has already strained and degraded the Senate’s blue-slip tradition as our colleagues rush to pack our courts with extremist judges to advance that vision. … No judge until now — 101 years later — has ever been confirmed by this body having not received a single blue slip from a home state senator,” Merkley said from the Senate floor earlier this week.
Senate Republicans previously confirmed Michael Brennan to serve on the 7th Circuit and David Stras to serve on the 8th Circuit.
But, unlike Bounds, in both of those cases only one home-state senator — Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — refused to return their blue slip.
Updated at 4:45 p.m.