The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested Wednesday the Republican chairman disrespected a female senator by holding a hearing over her objection to a judicial pick from her home state.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, had withheld her “blue slip” on the nomination of Michael Brennan, President Trump’s pick to a seat to a Wisconsin-held seat on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ms. Baldwin said the state’s bipartisan commission for nominating judicial nominees was ignored by the Trump White House.
But Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, held a hearing on Mr. Brennan on Wednesday, suggesting he’ll move forward despite the lack of consent from Ms. Baldwin.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Mr. Grassley was mishandling the issue.
“I find it really very hard — and particularly for a woman senator who has tried so hard, who has worked with her state commission — for her view to be rebuffed in this manner,” Mrs. Feinstein said.
Her office didn’t respond to a request for comment about why she pointed out Ms. Baldwin’s sex. Mr. Grassley last year held a hearing on another nominee opposed by a male Democratic senator, so the move wasn’t unique.
The blue slip tradition has emerged as an arcane but important fight in the battle over Mr. Trump’s judicial nominees. Blue slips are signs that home-state senators consent to a pick. Under the tradition, some chairman had declined to move forward with nominees unless both senators from a state returned their slips, signaling consent.
In the case of Mr. Brennan, Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, returned his slip but Ms. Baldwin did not.
Mr. Grassley said the point of the slips is to get the White House to consult with senators, not to give them a veto. He said he felt comfortable with the level of consultation.
“A negative or unreturned blue slip won’t necessarily prevent a Circuit Court nominee from receiving a hearing, unless the White House failed to consult with home-state senators,” Mr. Grassley said. “After reviewing the record, it’s clear the White House adequately consulted with Senator Baldwin.”
Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, asked Mr. Brennan if he considered withdrawing, since Ms. Baldwin said she wasn’t properly consulted.
“Sen. Baldwin and Sen. Johnson, of course, both had their nominees on the Wisconsin Federal Nomination Commission. I was proud to interview with them. I was proud to receive bipartisan support from them,” Mr. Brennan responded, pushing back.
Two Democrats, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, grilled Mr. Brennan over his views on the criminal justice system, demanding he acknowledge racial bias in the system.
Mr. Brennan, who served as a county judge but is now in private practice, refused to answer Mr. Booker’s question directly, which caused both senators to lash out at the nominee.
“You’re a judge in the United States of America and you have not looked at issues of race in sentencing in the criminal justice system?” Mr. Booker questioned.
“I’m really, really concerned about your qualifications in that area if you refuse to even acknowledge…the data,” Ms. Harris said.