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Trump Defies McConnell with SCOTUS Pick

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty
Washington, D.C.

President Donald Trump defied advice from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in picking Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a move that resulted in a potential Justice who would have one of the most conservative records on the high court.

Democrats, including former staff for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are already seizing on McConnell’s advice to the president as a line of attack against Kavanaugh.

McConnell, as Breitbart News and the New York Times reported on Saturday night, was pushing Trump to pick Judge Ray Kethledge–or Judge Tom Hardiman–since McConnell believed they would face an easier Senate confirmation than Kavanaugh or Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

“McConnell has said he does not want a SCOTUS battle in an election year,” one source who had been briefed on McConnell’s private comments to many people in Washington told Breitbart News on Saturday. “He thinks Kethledge would be easy to confirm because Kethledge is not a consistent conservative.”

Breitbart News reached out to McConnell’s office for comment at 7:32 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday evening. About an hour later–at 8:26 p.m. Eastern Time, per the RSS feed for the New York Times–the Times published its story on the matter.

The piece, from the Times‘ Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin, reported as such:

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, told President Trump this past week that Judges Raymond M. Kethledge and Thomas M. Hardiman presented the fewest obvious obstacles to being confirmed to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, according to Republican officials briefed on the conversation. While careful not to directly make the case for any would-be justice, Mr. McConnell made clear in multiple phone calls with Mr. Trump and the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, that the lengthy paper trail of another top contender, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, would pose difficulties for his confirmation. Mr. McConnell is concerned about the volume of the documents that Judge Kavanaugh has created in his 12 years on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as well as in his roles as White House staff secretary under President George W. Bush and assistant to Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.

Twenty minutes later, at 8:46 p.m. Eastern Time, McConnell spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier told Breitbart News, in response to the original press request: “The Leader has said publicly that he’s confident the President will select someone in the mold of Justice Gorsuch. I can’t speak to the theories of those anonymous sources.”

She did not, however, answer follow-up questions on Saturday on whether McConnell thought Kavanaugh could easily be confirmed, as Breitbart News reported on Saturday night:

Ferrier has not responded to a follow-up request for further comment on a two-part question: Whether McConnell believes Kethledge is “in the mold of Justice Gorsuch,” even with the revelation that Kethledge overturned deportation orders for an illegal alien convicted of grand theft auto—a revelation exposed by bestselling author and conservative columnist Ann Coulter.

But, now that President Trump has selected on Kavanaugh, McConnell has issued a statement publicly praising him–as statements roll in from GOP senators across the Senate praising Kavanaugh and looking forward to his confirmation.

McConnell said on Monday evening in response to the president’s announcement of Kavanaugh as his selection:

President Trump has made a superb choice. Judge Brett Kavanaugh is an impressive nominee who is extremely well qualified to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Kavanaugh has sterling academic credentials. He is widely admired for his intellect, experience, and exemplary judicial temperament. He has won the respect of his peers and is highly regarded throughout the legal community. And his judicial record demonstrates a firm understanding of the role of a judge in our Republic: Setting aside personal views and political preferences in order to interpret our laws as they are written. I look forward to meeting with Judge Kavanaugh and to the Senate’s fair consideration of his nomination, beginning with the work of Chairman Grassley and the Judiciary Committee. This is an opportunity for Senators to put partisanship aside and consider his legal qualifications with the fairness, respect, and seriousness that a Supreme Court nomination ought to command.

Haberman, in a tweet less than an hour before Trump’s announcement of his selection of Kavanaugh, argued that “aides” in the White House “fumed” about the Times piece on McConnell–saying the public revelation that McConnell was pushing Kethledge or Hardiman may have shifted Trump back to Kavanaugh.

While all of this jockeying behind the scenes may not mean much now that the selection is Kavanaugh and the president has formally nominated the D.C. Circuit Judge for the Supreme Court, it is worth noting that the Democrats are already pouncing on McConnell’s comments behind the scenes in lobbying against Kavanaugh.

Brian Fallon, a prominent Democrat strategist, is a former spokesman for Schumer and for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. Trump soundly defeated Clinton in November 2016 in the general election, beating her in 30 and a half states and winning 306 electoral votes. Clinton did not even win 20 states.

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