WASHINGTON — The White Home is abandoning plans to nominate a Kentucky lawyer who opposes abortion rights and is backed by Senator Mitch McConnell to a federal court seat, citing opposition from Senator Rand Paul, Mr. McConnell’s home-state colleague.
The resistance from Mr. McConnell’s fellow Republican marked a latest twist over a possible nomination that had prompted outrage on the left. Democrats were incensed that President Biden’s team had agreed to advance a conservative chosen by Mr. McConnell to fill a district court emptiness because the party is stepping up its give attention to countering latest abortion restrictions.
The potential nominee, Chad Meredith, had successfully defended Kentucky’s anti-abortion law as a lawyer for the state. Mr. Biden’s plan to nominate him was made public by The Louisville Courier-Journal just before the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade precedent that established abortion rights.
Mr. McConnell, the minority leader, who has a deep interest in shaping the federal judiciary, said the White House intended to follow through on its commitment to nominate Mr. Meredith until Mr. Paul objected. Mr. Paul informed the White House that he wouldn’t return a “blue slip” consenting to the nomination of Mr. Meredith, who’s now in private practice.
The blue slip tradition followed by the Senate Judiciary Committee effectively gives home-state senators veto power over the collection of federal district court judges for his or her states.
“In considering potential district court nominees, the White House learned that Senator Rand Paul is not going to return a blue slip on Chad Meredith,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said Friday in a press release. “Due to this fact, the White House is not going to nominate Mr. Meredith.”
The consequence has left Mr. McConnell frustrated and a few Democrats mystified. It pulled back the curtain on a seldom discussed back channel of communication that continues to be between Mr. McConnell and Mr. Biden, who were once negotiating partners within the Senate but who’ve more recently had little to do with each other because the Kentucky Republican works to sink the Democratic president’s agenda.
Still, Mr. McConnell said he had persuaded the White House to do him a “personal favor” by putting a young conservative on the bench, only to be thwarted by a Republican colleague.
“The online results of that is it has prevented me from getting my sort of judge out of a liberal Democratic president,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview, calling Mr. Paul’s position “just utterly pointless.”
Mr. Meredith, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, would have replaced Judge Karen Caldwell, 66, an appointee of President George W. Bush in 2001. Last month, she announced her intention to take senior judicial status, a move that may allow her to cut back her workload while making a emptiness for the White House to fill. She gave no specific date for her departure, which could hinge on who’s picked to interchange her.
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Mr. Paul’s office didn’t reply to requests for comment on the disclosure by Mr. McConnell and the White House.
But Democrats had made it clear they were displeased with the potential nomination of Mr. Meredith, wondering aloud why Mr. Biden would have agreed to call a one that opposed abortion rights, and what he might need extracted from Republicans in return.
“I said, what’s in it for us?” Senator Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who’s the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters this week, describing how he pressed the White House on the Kentucky court seat nomination. “They haven’t given me a selected answer.”
Mr. McConnell said that he had made no pledge to the White House to do anything in return for Mr. Biden accepting his suggestion, an appeal he made through Ron Klain, the chief of staff.
“There was no deal,” said Mr. McConnell, adding that Mr. Biden’s consideration represented the sort of “collegiality” and once routine cooperation on home-state judges that has diminished lately. “This was a private friendship gesture.”
Democrats had sharply questioned why Mr. Biden would recommend a nominee backed by Mr. McConnell, considering that the Republican leader blocked Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick in 2016 and has been a predominant impediment to the president’s agenda.
Recent details of the White House arrangement with Mr. McConnell also got here as internal Democratic negotiations over a serious tax and energy policy measure fell apart due to objections from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans, who unanimously opposed the measure within the Senate, were celebrating.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, had called the upcoming nomination “indefensible” and urged the White House to drop the thought. Representative John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky, was outraged as well. With Mr. Biden within the White House, Democrats assumed they — not their nemesis Mr. McConnell — could be consulted on home-state nominations.
Mr. Beshear also pointed to Mr. Meredith’s possible connection to pardons issued by former Gov. Matt Bevin which have come under intense scrutiny, saying any role in those pardons could be disqualifying. But Mr. McConnell noted that Mr. Meredith cleared an F.B.I. background check done in preparation for the nomination.
“The F.B.I. check confirmed he had nothing to do with it,” Mr. McConnell said of the pardons.
The blockade of Mr. Meredith has also disenchanted his allies in Kentucky.
“He’s one of the crucial ethical people I’ve met by way of watching him within the limelight over the past several years,” said April Wimberg, the president of the Louisville chapter of the Federalist Society. “I used to be very surprised that anyone, and particularly Senator Paul, would have any opposition to him.”
Had it gone forward, the nomination of Mr. Meredith would have been a big departure from the background of judicial nominees the White House has sent to the Senate over the primary years of the administration. In contrast to the company lawyers and prosecutors traditionally favored by presidents of each parties, the Biden White House has focused on maintaining minorities historically underrepresented on the bench in addition to public defenders and lawyers with experience in civil rights law.
Mr. McConnell noted that Mr. Klain had conceded of their discussions that Mr. Meredith was “actually not the sort of person we’d normally nominate,” however the senator argued that the move was simply trading one Republican-backed judge for an additional.
“It isn’t gifting away a seat,” said Mr. McConnell, who said he never discussed the potential nomination directly with Mr. Biden. “He’s got larger stuff on his plate than this.”
Mr. McConnell raised the likelihood that Mr. Paul might need believed that it was his turn to recommend a judicial candidate. But Mr. McConnell said that the 2 Kentucky senators had no agreement on such matters and that he doubted Mr. Biden would have given Mr. Paul the identical consideration regardless.
“The president wouldn’t have been taking a suggestion from Rand Paul, I can assure you,” said Mr. McConnell, who noted his longstanding personal relationship with Mr. Biden.
Though the president’s long tenure on Capitol Hill and his past work with Mr. McConnell were initially regarded as big benefits, they’ve not worked out that way for Mr. Biden. Mr. McConnell has been a persistent obstacle and in recent days threatened to attempt to block laws intended to enhance American competitiveness with China — a measure Mr. McConnell supported — if Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats proceeded with a party-line tax bill.
Mr. McConnell and Mr. Paul have also parted ways on issues over time. Mr. McConnell originally endorsed his Republican opponent during Mr. Paul’s initial successful Senate bid in 2010. But despite their break over the judicial nomination, Mr. McConnell said he backed Mr. Paul’s re-election bid this 12 months.
“After all,” said Mr. McConnell, who hopes to stay party leader, particularly if Republicans claim the Senate majority in November. “On an important vote, he will probably be there.”