Dick Durbin: It was Ron Klain who blabbed about Breyer's retirement to a "limited" number of people

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Here’s what Durbin says happened last week on the day the news leaked, reportedly leaving Stephen Breyer “upset” that the media got wind of his announcement a day early.


“So I think it must have been Wednesday morning when I received a surprise call at 9:30 a.m. from Ron Klain, not a usual person to call me. I think the first time he’s ever called me,” Durbin, D-Ill., said. “He said the president wanted me to know that Stephen Breyer was about to announce his retirement from the court and they were telling a limited number of people and that I should keep it confidential.”

But the news did not remain confidential long, Durbin said, and it was public within an hour. That surprised Breyer, sources told Fox News, who was planning to announce his retirement imminently but did not intend for the news to go public as early as it did.

“That’s where confidential on Capitol Hill leads to, I guess,” Durbin said.

Durbin claims that he told only his wife. So who told NBC, which broke the story and deprived Breyer of showing his cards on his own timetable?

My theory was that the White House itself was probably the leaker since the Court seldom leaks and Breyer presumably would have limited the news of his decision to his most trusted friends and confidants — except for letting Biden’s advisors know, as a courtesy to give them a day to prepare. (Even though, in reality, they had much longer.) Desperate to change the subject from its failure on voting-rights legislation and give its demoralized base something to be happy about, maybe Biden’s political team couldn’t resist dialing up NBC and whispering the Breyer news a day early.


But it probably wasn’t Klain who spoke to NBC, right? If he was the leaker, he wouldn’t have needed to call up Durbin to share the news and to ask him to keep it a secret. He would have just let Durbin read about it like everyone else an hour later when NBC published it.

Or maybe Klain was the leaker but felt obliged to perform a courtesy of his own by informing Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, before he whispered it to the press.

Occam’s Razor: The leaker was probably some White House deputy who works with Klain or a top Senate Democratic aide who got the news when Durbin and Chuck Schumer did. If it was a Klain deputy, though, I’d be fascinated to know if the boss authorized the leak to NBC or if the deputy freelanced it. Remember that both Biden and Jen Psaki were scrupulous last Wednesday about resisting media questions about the apparent Court vacancy, insisting that Breyer himself hadn’t made anything official. My sense from that was that they knew Breyer was annoyed and also assumed — or knew — that the leak had originated at the White House. And so they were trying to make amends by performing a public show of deference to the justice after the fact.

That’s what Breyer gets for trying to be a nice guy and a conscientious Democrat by giving the White House advance warning.

Meanwhile, a lefty pollster commissioned by a lefty group has this new data about Biden’s forthcoming SCOTUS pick:

During his presidential campaign, President Biden promised to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, and voters think he should keep this promise by a 17-point margin (48-31). This is a key issue for both women (50-28) and Black voters (92-4), and earns support across all age groups: voters over 65 (54-32), voters between the ages of 46 and 65 (50-30), and voters between the ages of 18 and 45 (43-30).


Those numbers are impossible to square with the polling from ABC over the weekend: “[J]ust over three-quarters of Americans (76%) want Biden to consider ‘all possible nominees.’ Just 23% want him to automatically follow through on his history-making commitment [to limit his selection to a black woman] that the White House seems keen on seeing through.” And it’s hard to believe that the 65+ demographic, which skews more conservative, would lopsidedly favor Biden limiting his choice by race and sex. But these numbers will encourage Team Joe to do the thing it wants to do and was certainly going to do anyway even if the data looked different, so oh well.

It seems increasingly unlikely that they’ll encounter any trouble in confirming the nominee. When Joe Manchin has misgivings about a Democratic priority, like Build Back Better, he sends up flares in interviews and op-eds to let the party know. (Not that they pay much attention when he does.) I’m not sensing many misgivings about the Court vacancy in these comments:

Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Monday that he is “anxious” for Biden to name — and the Senate to confirm — a nominee to fill Breyer’s seat.

“I think they’re all excellent names,” Manchin said of the Black women floated as Biden’s potential picks. “I think it’s great to have this many qualified — I mean, extremely qualified — people that can serve and, I think, serve justice.”…

“I mean, there’s a process we go through. It has to go to the Judiciary Committee first, but I think that basically, I mean, especially if it’s somebody who’s already been vetted, that we put on one of the benches before, circuit, district, that’ll make it go even quicker,” he said.


Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit just last year. What Manchin’s telling us here is that he’ll rubber-stamp a Biden nominee even if Schumer moves quickly, on a Barrett-like schedule, towards confirmation. He’s earned a lot of political capital in West Virginia over the past month by thwarting BBB and protecting the filibuster. Now he gets to spend a little on a Democratic priority.

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Duane Patterson 10:00 PM | July 11, 2024