If Donald Trump really did expect personal loyalty from fired FBI director James Comey, he’d better not expect it of his replacement. The man who will have the most influence on the confirmation of Trump’s nominee, Senate Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley, tells Roll Call that the Senate wants a candidate with some distance from the Trump administration.Call this a soft warning.:
And he did not expect the nominee to have ties to the Trump presidential campaign or the presidential transition. That would seem to rule out Trump backers like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“I think the president and the people close to the president don’t want to emphasize that any more. They’re going to get somebody entirely away from that as far as I can tell,” Grassley said.
He’s basically using an attaboy to tell the White House that they’re on the right path for a confirmation … and that they’d better not stray from it, either. As Niels Lesniewski writes, that leaves out a number of Trump surrogates and endorsers who currently populate speculative lists for the spot. It’s not just Christie and Giuliani, but also Sheriff David Clarke and maybe even Kelly Ayotte.
Thanks to the Harry Reid move in 2013 to change the precedent under the filibuster, Republicans can theoretically confirm anyone Trump nominates. Grassley’s making it clear that this is not one of those theoretical applications. The firing of Comey in the middle of the Russia probe, and perhaps even more the chaos and contradictory statements from the Trump administration, has made this a radioactive opening. Grassley can easily kill any nominee that doesn’t pass independent muster by either denying the candidate a hearing or swinging Republicans to block the nomination in the Judiciary committee afterward, and he’s making sure that the White House knows it.
What the position really requires, Grassley suggests, is someone from the federal judiciary who can demonstrate integrity and focus. Grassley says he won’t suggest any particular candidates — he wants to see a list — but thinks the example of William Webster’s appointment in the mess that followed Watergate would be a good precedent. The C-SPAN interviewer asked about Merrick Garland as a candidate, but Grassley refused to bite:
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 11, 2017
Dave Weigel says the boomlet for Garland’s nomination is precisely why Democrats lose:
We live in a golden age of political stupidity, but I’m not being hyperbolic when I say this: The idea of pulling Judge Merrick Garland off the D.C. Circuit federal appeals court and into the FBI is one of the silliest ideas I’ve seen anyone in Washington fall for. It’s like Wile E. Coyote putting down a nest made of dynamite and writing “NOT A TRAP” on a whiteboard next to it. It’s also an incredibly telling chapter in the book that’s been written since the Republican National Convention — the story of how Republicans who are uncomfortable with the Trump presidency gritting their teeth as they use it to lock in control of the courts. …
Every reporter asking about Lee’s idea knew that it was a ploy to open up a seat on the D.C. circuit. Every Democrat or liberal observer has the power to recognize the ploy. Why have some of them been suckered?
As I wrote yesterday, this idea looked like a decidedly mixed bag for both sides, but almost all downside for Garland himself. Why give up an influential position in the judiciary to serve at Trump’s whimsical pleasure? So far, no one’s been able to answer that question.
Grassley’s pointed remarks do tend to show that Senate Republicans aren’t being entirely transactional about the judiciary, though. Trump can fire whomever he wants, but Grassley’s reminding him that the hiring process is another thing entirely. That’s much less about gaining a seat on the judicial bench than it is gaining some control over the chaos erupting in Washington.