WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday abruptly withdrew one of President Donald Trump’s appellate court nominees when it became apparent he did not have enough support to pass.
The decision came just minutes before the confirmation vote and after senators voiced concerns about his college writings.
McConnell indicated that the administration would be withdrawing the nomination of Ryan Bounds, an assistant U.S. attorney in Oregon, to serve on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Republicans have been able to use their thin majority to push several of Trump’s nominees through despite overwhelming Democratic opposition. Arizona Sen. John McCain’s absence has given the GOP even less cushion, with Republicans holding a 50-49 voting edge.
That edge evaporated when Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said he needed more information about Bounds.
“After talking with the nominee last night and meeting with him today, I had unanswered questions that led to me being unable to support him,” Scott said.
A person familiar with Scott’s thinking said he had concerns about some of Bounds’ writings. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Scott was not detailing his concerns publicly.
Scott said he felt like he needed “more information,” and other Republicans joined him in asking for that. He said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was one of those senators.
The two senators from Bounds’ home state, Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, had objected to the nomination, saying the Trump administration hadn’t consulted them about it. They highlighted writings from Bounds’ years at Stanford University that they said revealed alarming views on race, workers’ rights and the gay community. They also complained that Bounds did not provide his Stanford Review opinion columns to a judicial selection committee in Oregon that makes recommendations for federal judges.
Bounds, 45, was asked about the writings during the confirmation hearing and in questionnaires submitted by senators, and he apologized. In one column titled “Lo! A Pestilence Stalks Us,” he appeared to mock LGBT students as being too sensitive when a group of intoxicated athletes vandalized a statue celebrating gay pride. In the same column, he seemed to mock Latino students for being too sensitive when they complained about the termination of a Latino administrator.
Bounds said the article didn’t show sufficient respect for the concerns of the students involved. “I apologize for that; it is not in keeping with how I have lived my life,” Bounds said.
Bounds also told senators that he did not believe he needed to submit pre-law school writings to the judicial selection committee.
“Senator Wyden’s office explicitly told me the committee sought to review materials going back only ‘as far as law school,’ and so I identified and (to the extent practicable) produced all such materials without regard to whether they were potentially controversial,” Bounds said.
While Democrats objected to Bounds’ writings and the process used to advance him, Republican senators focused on his work as a lawyer.
“Fairness, impartiality, intellectual rigor. To sum it up, in the words of one legal peer, quote, ‘Ryan has all of this, and more,'” McConnell said Thursday morning, hours before pulling the nomination. “So, I look forward to voting to confirm this excellent nominee, and I urge all my colleagues to join me.”
Democrats were incensed that Republicans were moving ahead despite the objections of both home-state senators, saying the GOP was discarding Senate courtesy and tradition.
The Senate gives lawmakers a chance to weigh in on a judicial nominee from their home state by submitting a blue-colored form called the “blue slip.” A positive blue slip signals the Senate can move forward with the nomination process. The blue slip is designed to generate consultation between the executive branch and Congress. The two Oregon senators signaled their objections by not returning blue slips, which would generally stall a nomination.
This time, Republicans opted to move forward anyway, which meant that if Bounds had been confirmed, it would have been the first time since at least 1956 and possibly much longer that a nominee had been confirmed without positive blue slips from both home-state senators.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Bounds “a deeply flawed nominee who concealed his views during the nominations process, which is why I strongly opposed him in committee.”
Merkley and Wyden said they had spoken in detail with colleagues in recent days about Bounds but were afraid the issue was getting lost.
“I’m still somewhat surprised that we had a successful outcome,” Merkley said. “I do not feel this individual was the right person to serve on the bench, but I’m very pleased my colleagues had a long discussion about it over lunch and decided to take the course you saw them take by asking the president to withdraw the nomination.”