Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that based on his discussions with the White House, the nominations of Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley would not move forward through the confirmation process. The decision comes after reports that both nominees made public comments celebrating groups or policies that were discriminatory.
The decision is a significant interruption of the Trump administration's plans to have the Senate swiftly confirm its judicial nominees, often over the objections of Democrats complaining that certain picks are too biased or too inexperienced for the federal bench.
Mateer was nominated to serve as a federal judge in the Eastern District of Texas, but the committee never received his paperwork, according to a spokesman for Grassley. Talley was nominated for a federal district court seat in Alabama and has been awaiting confirmation from the full Senate after the committee approved his nomination on a party-line vote last month. When asked Wednesday whether the White House would withdraw Talley's nomination, Grassley said, "Of course they will."
Democrats objected to Talley's nomination early on, citing his lack of experience, the fact that he has never worked as a judge and the American Bar Association's finding that he was "not qualified" for the federal bench.
Republicans have defended Talley, with some accusing the ABA of a liberal bias. But in the time since the committee voted on his nomination, reports have identified him as the author of an online comment in 2011 defending "the first KKK."
Past comments by Mateer have also been brought into the spotlight. According to other reports, in 2015 he said he believed transgender children were "Satan's plan" and defended a judge's right to support certain kinds of discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.
Grassley said that neither nominee had disclosed these comments during their vetting processes. He also complained Tuesday that Talley had not disclosed to the committee during his interview that he is married to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff for White House counsel Don McGahn.
Grassley stopped short Wednesday of condemning the White House's vetting process, calling it "very, very thorough already."
"But I don't know how you can vet, be absolutely 100 percent sure, of everybody — particularly in the social networking world that we have," Grassley added. "I don't know how you get everything off the social network. I don't know how you get it."
But high-ranking Senate Democrats said the fouled-up nominations were a sign that the Trump administration needed to make changes to its judicial selection process. "I hope they look at their process and be more discriminating in how they select nominees," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the committee's ranking Democrat.
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