Senate

Graham goes quiet on Biden’s Supreme Court pick

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been increasingly — and uncharacteristically — tight-lipped over Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, with whom he met on Tuesday. 

Graham held a brief meeting with Jackson in his Senate office, with the appeals court judge departing roughly 15 minutes after the sit-down started. 

The in-person meeting is significantly shorter than others Jackson has had with GOP members of the Judiciary Committee or her meeting with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a potential swing vote. 

Graham largely declined to comment, telling reporters that it was a “good meeting” and describing Jackson as a “nice person.” 

“Just stay tuned for the hearing and I’ll tell you how I vote when I vote,” Graham said. 

Asked about the specifics of what they discussed, Graham said he wasn’t going to talk about the meeting. Pressed on what he wanted to ask Jackson during the hearing, he replied with a laugh, “that would fall in the category of talking about it.” 

Graham’s reluctance to talk about Jackson comes after he brushed off reporters as he entered and exited the Capitol on Monday night who asked about the matter.

It’s a U-turn from Graham’s normal persona. The 66-year-old senator is known for being chatty with reporters around the Capitol, frequently stopping to talk on camera or letting reporters trail him from the Capitol to his office in the Russell Senate Office Building. 

Packed into his office on Tuesday with Jackson, staff and a gaggle of photographers and reporters, Graham smiled for the cascade of camera clicks, jokingly calling the media an “unruly crowd” and telling them not to “take anything” on their way out after the brief photo op. 

But he ignored a question about what he wanted to hear from Jackson during their meeting. And asked as he hustled to a Senate basement on Tuesday about his reaction to his meeting with Jackson, Graham replied, “I had none.” 

Former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who has been tasked with helping guide Jackson’s nomination through the Senate, said that he knew Graham and joked that you don’t “know really what to expect with Senator Graham.”

“That meeting could have lasted longer but, you know, he’s been around the block a few times on this. He knows what he’s doing. So, he got straight to the point on the issues he wanted to talk about it,” Jones said, adding that it would be “a mistake to read anything into that meeting one way or another.” 

Whether Graham supports her could be an indication of what the ceiling will be for how much GOP support she gets. 

Graham was one of three GOP senators, along with Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who backed Jackson last year when she was nominated for a federal appeals court for the D.C. circuit. The three GOP senators also lead the caucus in voting for most of Biden’s district and appeals court nominees. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is holding out hope that Jackson could get Republican support beyond that trio, and noted that he’s reached out to several members. 

But Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, appeared skeptical that Jackson could break beyond that ceiling of GOP support. 

“I would be very surprised if that happens,” Thune said, while predicting that GOP senators would “vote their conscience.”

Without Graham’s support, Jackson could be limited to just picking up one or two GOP votes. 

Murkowski hasn’t yet met with Jackson but has stressed that her previous “yes” vote last year doesn’t guarantee that she’ll support her Supreme Court nomination. Murkowski is also up for reelection this year and facing a former President Trump-backed challenger. 

Collins is viewed as Democrats’ best chance for picking up a GOP vote for Jackson. Collins voted for then-President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees and two of Trump’s nominees. She has stressed that her opposition to Justice Amy Coney Barrett is due to the timeline of confirming her just days before a presidential election. 

Collins noted that she won’t make a decision until after the Judiciary Committee hearing but praised Jackson after their sit-down. 

“Obviously, I don’t agree with her on every decision she has rendered. … But I felt that what I did get from her is that she takes a very thorough, careful approach in applying the law to the facts of the case, and that is what I want to see in a judge,” Collins said after her meeting.

Not supporting Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination would be a shift for Graham, who backed both of Obama’s nominees and all three of Trump’s picks. 

Graham has typically taken a more hands-off approach in opposing judicial nominees as long as they are considered to be in the mainstream. 

“Senator Graham has long believed that under the Constitution the president has the right to select judges of their choosing and as long as they are qualified, they should generally be confirmed by the Senate,” Graham’s office said in a statement last year.

But Graham lobbied hard for Biden to pick another nominee to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, urging the administration to pick J. Michelle Childs, a district judge from South Carolina. 

Graham blitzed TV networks and talked up Childs to reporters predicting that she would get significant Republican support if she was picked. He also sent a warning shot against going with another nominee, saying that while he could support Childs, voting for another nominee would be “problematic.” 

Graham also made his displeasure clear after Biden named Jackson as his pick to succeed Breyer, saying that the “radical left has won President Biden over yet again.”

“The attacks by the Left on Judge Childs from South Carolina apparently worked. I expect a respectful but interesting hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Graham said.

Senators are being careful not to get ahead of Graham, who isn’t expected to announce how he’ll vote until after the hearing. But they do view him as a likely “no” vote on Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination. 

Not getting Graham’s support wouldn’t sink Jackson’s nomination. Democrats can confirm her on their own as long as all of them stick together. 

But getting Graham to vote “yes” during the Judiciary Committee vote, or even “present,” would let Democrats avoid a tie vote that would require additional steps once her nomination reaches the full Senate. 

Durbin told reporters this week that he wanted to speak with Graham now that he’s had more time to digest Jackson being the nominee. 

“I’m going to sit down with him. I’m sure he’ll be honest with me. … I don’t pressure him. He’s come around and helped me on many, many occasions. But I want to sit down and talk to him. … I want to see if he’s at least open to at least a conversation,” Durbin said. 

“He’s been good. I have to tell you as a Republican voting for judgeships he’s been exceptionally good,” he added. 

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Barack Obama Dick Durbin Donald Trump doug jones Joe Biden John Thune Ketanji Brown Jackson Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Stephen Breyer Susan Collins

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