Court fight represents golden opportunity for Cruz, Hawley, Cotton

The looming Senate battle over President Biden’s coming pick for the Supreme Court is a golden opportunity for conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

Cruz, Hawley and Cotton are all viewed as potential White House candidates, either in 2024 or later depending on the plans of former President Trump, and all three sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has the job of vetting Biden’s nominee.  

The battle over Biden’s pick, as a result, is an opportunity for all three to make a play to the conservative base, which will be watching the proceedings carefully, ahead of possible White House runs.

“Supreme Court hearings, Supreme Court votes are the reason why we have many senators who want to run for president get on that committee,” said Brian Darling, a Republican strategist and former Senate aide. “It’s just for this moment right now, being in a Supreme Court fight.”

Trump is widely expected to run for president in 2024, and his potential candidacy is freezing the field of rising Republican stars who are eyeing the White House. Nevertheless, a confirmation battle is a rare chance for ambitious conservatives on the Judiciary Committee to shine.  

“I think it’s a big moment for all of them because you’re talking about a lifetime appointment at a time when the country grinds to a halt until the judiciary renders an opinion,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn’t appear eager for a scorched-earth fight over the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, and already one senior Senate Republican, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, has come under fire for suggesting that Biden is trying to fill some “sort of quota.”  

But even though the nominee won’t shift the ideological balance of the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, the GOP base is gearing up for a fight and are looking to Cruz, Hawley and Cotton to lead it.  

“Every justice is a big deal. … Every decision is important,” said Chip Saltsman, a Republican strategist.

“I like our lineup on the Judiciary Committee and I’m looking forward to their questioning because I expect it to be smart, articulate and well thought out,” he added.  

Cruz has already zeroed in on Biden’s campaign pledge to appoint a Black woman to the court, a critique voiced by fellow conservatives who say a nominee’s credentials, not race or sex, should primarily drive the choice.  

“That’s offensive. Black women are what, 6 percent of the U.S. population? He’s saying to 94 percent of Americans, I don’t give a damn about you. You are ineligible. And it’s actually an insult to Black women,” Cruz said on his podcast, “Verdict,” suggesting that Biden is only considering Black jurists because he wants to appeal to an important constituency. 

Hawley is also raising concerns about Biden’s criteria for filling the vacancy created by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer’s impending retirement.  

“I think it sends the wrong signal to say that, ‘Well, if a person is of a certain ethnic background, that we don’t care what their record is, we don’t care what their substantive beliefs are.’ That would be extraordinary,” Hawley told CNN.  

“He opposed the historic nominations of African Americans to the bench — Clarence Thomas, Janice Rogers Brown,” he later told reporters, referring to Republican-appointed Black members of the Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, respectively.

Hawley warned in a tweet that if Biden nominates “a left-wing activist who will bless his campaign against parents, his abuse of the FBI, his refusal to enforce our immigration laws, and his lawless vaccine mandates, expect a major battle in the Senate.”  

Cotton, who has a more cooperative relationship with McConnell than either Cruz or Hawley, is taking a lower-key approach to Biden’s nominee.  

He has emphasized on “Fox News Sunday” that he’ll keep an “open mind” and won’t “simply make up smears against a nominee.”  

At the same time, he is pledging, “We’ll give a thorough vetting into any nominee’s legal philosophies, as well as their career and their character and their temperament.”  

McConnell has tried to lower the political temperature ahead of the Senate debate, telling reporters last week, “I’m going to give the president’s nominee, whoever that may be, a fair look.”  

The GOP leader has been sensitive to attempts by Democrats and liberal activists to paint him and his party as racially intolerant.  

In 2015, he made it a point to vote to confirm Loretta Lynch, a Black woman whom then-President Obama nominated for attorney general.

And last week he pushed back hard when Democrats pounced on his off-the-cuff statement at a press conference that “African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”  

He later clarified that he made “an inadvertent omission” and declared that reading any racist intent behind it was an “outrageous characterization of my record” and “deeply offensive.”  

“McConnell and Hawley and Cruz are speaking to totally different audiences. McConnell is keeping his head down and speaking to voters in the midterms, whereas Hawley and Cruz are speaking to the core Republican primary voters, looking down the line to 2024,” Darling said. 

Saltsman, the GOP strategist, said Biden’s announcement that he will only consider a Black woman for the seat could backfire on Democrats because he’s excluding many other constituencies. 

“The fact that the president has a Supreme Court nominee and is only willing to consider African American women for the highest court in the land, they’re going to be many constituents upset they’re not getting a look, Hispanic men or African American men of white men or white women,” he said.  

“There was a time when Sandra Day O’Connor’s was a woman’s seat. That’s not how this works. You go after the best legal mind you think you can find and you run them through the ringer to see if that’s what you want to do and that’s who you should nominate,” he said.  

O’Connell said the Supreme Court fight could help or hurt either party, depending on how it plays out.  

He said that Democrats are looking to accuse Republicans of racially motivated animus if they zealously attack the nominee, while Republicans think they have points of their own to score by harping on Biden’s refusal to consider candidates who aren’t Black women.  

“This is a tool for the Democrats to try to say ‘All Republicans are bad’ at a time when people are ready to vote Republican who aren’t normally Republican,” he said. “They think the Republicans will go overboard” in criticizing the nominee.

Tags Barack Obama Clarence Thomas Donald Trump Joe Biden Josh Hawley Mitch McConnell Roger Wicker Stephen Breyer Supreme Court Ted Cruz Tom Cotton

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