Top White House lawyers to make pitch to senators for troubled judicial nominee


White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler (Pat Sullivan/AP)

Updated 11:27 p.m.

Two top White House lawyers plan to meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday in part to help shore up one of President Obama's nominees to serve on a federal appeals court.

Kathryn Ruemmler and her deputy, Neil Eggleston, plan to attend the regular Thursday luncheon for Senate Democrats. The meeting is partly an opportunity for Ruemmler to say goodbye as she plans to step down and to formally introduce Eggleston to the group. But Senate aides said that Ruemmler is also expected to make a pitch in support of David L. Barron, one of Obama's picks to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

Democratic and Republican senators have expressed concerns about Barron's nomination because of his involvement in formulating the legal reasoning to justify unmanned aerial drone strikes on Americans overseas when he worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. The White House has provided access in recent days to two memos written by Barron when he worked at OLC after several senators demanded an opportunity to review materials he wrote that served as the legal foundation for Obama’s decision to order a 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who had become a senior al-Qaeda operative in Yemen.

For at least three hours each day this week, senators have been granted permission to review the documents in a secure room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has expressed support for Barron's nomination and is expected to make a decision on how to proceed in the coming days, according to aides.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y), who also supports Barron, said Thursday's meeting demonstrates that the White House is more closely fielding and addressing the concerns of Senate Democrats, who have complained in the past that the administration has improperly considered the opinions of senators on policy and nominees.

The relationship between the White House and Senate Democrats "has never been better," Schumer said in an interview. “The closeness of the relationship is exemplified by the fact that we scheduled a lunch so the White House could explain the logic behind the Barron nomination.”

Less certain is whether Ruemmler will address the concerns of Democrats opposed to the nomination of Michael Boggs, one of Obama's picks to serve on a federal district court in Georgia. Boggs and the other Georgia nominees appeared at a confirmation hearing this week. The next day, Reid said he opposed Boggs's nomination because of concerns with his previous public statements and votes as a Georgia lawmaker on subjects ranging from abortion rights to gay rights. Several other Democrats have expressed opposition or skepticism.

In accordance with an agreement between the White House and senators, Ruemmler's office worked with Georgia's two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, to come up with a slate of nominees for vacant federal court positions in Georgia.

Isakson wouldn't say Wednesday whether he thought Boggs would be confirmed.

"We worked very hard to come up with a great package with the White House," he said. "I trust the president’s judgment, Kathy Ruemmler’s judgment, all seven people are very qualified, I think every member should make their own determination and do their own due diligence."

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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