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President Joe Biden speaks to governors

President Joe Biden speaks with governors on protecting access to reproductive healthcare on July 1, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson

The details of President Joe Biden's deal with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to nominate an anti-abortion lawyer to a lifetime federal judgeship came into clearer focus on Friday, sparking fresh calls for top congressional Democrats to block the proposed agreement.

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern reported Friday that "McConnell will allow Biden to nominate and confirm two U.S. attorneys to Kentucky"—positions that are term-limited—if the president nominates Republican lawyer Chad Meredith to a post on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

"Under the arrangement, Meredith would take the seat currently occupied by Judge Karen Kaye Caldwell, a George W. Bush nominee," Stern noted. "Caldwell submitted her move to senior status on June 22, which, once complete, will allow Meredith to take the seat. A lawyer with connections to the Kentucky governor's office who is familiar with the agreement told Slate that Caldwell conditioned her move upon the confirmation of a successor—specifically, the conservative Meredith."

The terms of the deal as well as its timing—right on the heels of the Supreme Court's decision last week to strike down Roe v. Wade—infuriated Democratic lawmakers and advocates who are currently fighting to shield reproductive rights from Republican officials like Meredith, who defended anti-abortion laws during his tenure as Kentucky's solicitor general.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who had planned to recommend nominees for the Eastern District in the case of a vacancy, told Slate that Biden's deal with McConnell is "indefensible" and that he has expressed his "outrage" to the White House, which has yet to publicly acknowledge the arrangement.

"I understand how brutally manipulative Mitch is, but at some point you have to stand up to him," Yarmuth told the outlet. "You have to just confront him and say, 'No, we're not gonna appoint your people. We're not gonna let Mitch McConnell appoint judges and other federal officials in a Democratic administration.'"

McConnell's ability to obstruct Democrats' U.S. attorney nominees despite being in the minority stems from the majority party's—and, apparently, the president's—continued adherence to the "blue-slip" tradition that gives senators veto power over nominees for posts in their home states.

Senate Republicans abandoned the blue-slip courtesy when they were last in power, and progressives have urged Democrats to follow suit.

Ian Millhiser, a senior correspondent for Vox, slammed the Biden-McConnell deal as "unconscionable" and called on Democratic leaders to ensure Meredith is not confirmed.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "should pledge that Meredith will receive no hearing," Millhiser wrote.

"And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer," Millhiser added, "should pledge he'll get no floor vote."


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