John Roberts refuses to read question from Rand Paul on whistleblower

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts refused to read a question submitted by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GOP senator to quarantine after coronavirus exposure The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill MORE (R-Ky.) during Thursday's question-and-answer session in President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE's impeachment trial.

Paul and Roberts have been battling over the question, which was expected to be about the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Because the question is thought to name the whistleblower and Roberts is responsible for reading the questions aloud, that would put him in the position of publicly outing the person on the floor of the Senate.

A Senate page brought the question from Paul to Roberts, who appeared to pause to read it. 

"The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said. 

Roberts then sat the slip of paper with Paul's query aside and the Senate moved on to the next question. 

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Paul argued during a brief press conference after the floor drama that his question "made no reference to any whistleblower" and that Roberts's decision was an "incorrect finding." 

"I think this is an important question, one that deserves to be asked. It makes no reference to anybody who may or may not be a whistleblower," Paul said. 
 
Paul then read his question, which names both a staff member for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffChris Matthews ripped for complimenting Trump's 'true presidential behavior' on Ginsburg Trump casts doubt on Ginsburg statement, wonders if it was written by Schiff, Pelosi or Schumer Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence MORE and the individual who has been reported in conservative media as the possible whistleblower, and asks about their contacts. 
 
Paul added that he wanted to ask the House managers if they know whether the two individuals named in the question were working together "to plot impeaching the president before there were  formal House impeachment proceedings." 

Paul could have challenged Roberts's decision to refuse his question. Speculation had swirled around the Capitol on Thursday that Paul would try to overrule Roberts and potentially force the Senate to try to table his question.  

But Paul told reporters that while he wrestled with whether to challenge Roberts on the floor "until the very last minute," he expected the Senate would have a lengthy session on Friday and decided to bypass a vote on Thursday. 

Republican senators had made it clear that they did not support Paul's effort to name the whistleblower. 
 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS fight MORE (R-Ky.) appeared to make a back-handed reference to Paul at the start of Thursday's session, urging senators to be respectful of Roberts. 
 
"We’ve been respectful of the chief justice’s unique position in reading our questions, and I want to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue," McConnell said.
 
Paul said he had not had any discussion with McConnell about his question. Asked if he thought the GOP leader's remarks were directed at him, Paul laughed and said, "It does sound like code, didn't it?"
 
McConnell's No. 2, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies MORE (S.D.), also told reporters that he did expect the whistleblower's name would be allowed to be read during the impeachment trial. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Fox's Napolitano: Supreme Court confirmation hearings will be 'World War III of political battles' Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday that he didn’t think the impeachment trial was the setting for Paul’s whistleblower fight.
 
Asked if he thought the question was a good idea, Graham responded: "Not in this environment."
 
Because the question names the whistleblower and Roberts is responsible for reading the questions aloud, that would put him in the position of publicly outing the person on the floor of the Senate.

A source confirmed Wednesday that Roberts has indicated he would not read a question from Paul regarding the whistleblower.

Paul argued that his colleagues were making selective use of federal whistleblower laws and the Privacy Act of 1974.

"A statue shouldn't be such that people can use and then nobody says they know who the person is, but anybody you say might be is all the sudden protected from being part of the debate," he said.

The Hill is not naming the individual being targeted by Republicans. It is also typically the policy of The Associated Press and other major news outlets not to reveal the identity of whistleblowers, who enjoy federal protections against retribution.

Updated at 1:58 p.m.