- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

One of Rhode Island’s Democratic senators canceled a meeting with the White House this week to talk about judicial nominations, then fired off a letter complaining about lack of consultation — escalating an ongoing battle that has both sides saying they’re being mistreated.

The Trump White House is hoping to pave the way for confirmation of a slate of judicial picks by reaching out to senators to engage in consultations about nominees from their home states.

But the vacancy in Rhode Island has proved to be a hurdle, with Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse saying they already have a nominee in mind — the same person President Obama picked, but whose nomination lapsed before she could be confirmed.

Things appeared to deteriorate this week when Mr. Whitehouse was slated to meet with the White House over the judgeship, then canceled. Instead, he sent a letter, also signed by Mr. Reed, blasting White House Counsel Donald McGahn for lack of outreach.

The senators also complained that they’d heard administration officials were trying to recruit their own candidates to be the U.S. attorney from Rhode Island, and called that a “deeply disturbing” breach.

“This is not how we do it,” the senators lectured Mr. McGahn in the letter, which was obtained by The Washington Times.

An administration official called the letter a “political stunt,” and said it’s part of an ongoing attempt by Democrats to delay and block Mr. Trump’s nominees.

“It is clear what’s happening: The minority party in the Senate has made a calculated decision to nullify the presidential election and bring our government to a halt,” the official told The Times.

The obstruction appeared to hit new depths when Democrats mounted a filibuster of state Judge David Nye, the nominee to fill a federal judgeship in Idaho.

Judge Nye, who was first nominated by President Obama and then renominated by Mr. Trump, had his confirmation delayed for weeks. But when the time came to vote on Wednesday, he was approved 100-0.

“Today’s confirmation of Judge David Nye exemplifies everything that is outrageous about the Democrats’ strategy,” the Trump official said. “The minority party required a cloture vote that burned 30 hours of Senate floor time for a judicial candidate that was first nominated by President Obama, and who was confirmed after all this by a vote of 100 to 0. You can’t make this stuff up.”

The Rhode Island senators, however, said it was the administration that was being underhanded, accusing it of leaking this week’s letter.

“It is interesting that the Trump administration, which has repeatedly decried leaks, decided to leak this correspondence. Senators Reed and Whitehouse are eager to discuss nominations with the administration, and are working to schedule a meeting,” the senators’ offices said in a joint statement to The Times.

“They have written the White House repeatedly and have been very clear and consistent: Rhode Islanders deserves a voice in filling Rhode Island judicial vacancies and Mary McElroy deserves to be renominated because she is eminently qualified and was unanimously approved by the full Republican Judiciary Committee last year,” the letter said.

The senators said they’d heard that “deputies of the Administration” were trying to recruit their own U.S. attorney from Rhode Island — a move they said undercut efforts to cooperate.

But the Trump official said they don’t know anything about those contacts.

“We have no idea who these phantoms are. The senators certainly haven’t told us,” the official said. “The administration has done everything possible to consult home-state senators. But often, like here, senators from the other party do everything imaginable to evade consultation — only to turn around and lambaste the administration for failing to consult.”

The dispute over the Rhode Island vacancy comes after The Times reported Monday that no Democratic senators have returned their blue slips signaling acceptance of Trump judicial nominees from their home states.

Without the returning of a blue slip, the nominee’s confirmation is put on hold, essentially blocking the position from being filled.

Democratic senators have said they are not ready to turn in blue slips until they fully review the records of the nominees.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that Democrats aren’t using blue slips to obstruct but rather to carry out their duty of “thoroughly vetting nominees using a tool that’s been around for 100 years.”

“It’s telling that just six months into the Trump administration, there is this proactive effort to effectively eliminate the role of senators in the nominations process,” Ms. Feinstein said. “No Democratic senator has said that he or she will reject all Trump judicial nominees. Rather, they will review nominees on a case-by-case basis. This effort isn’t a response to obstruction — there’s been no obstruction.”



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