Paul blames 'secret deal' for sinking judicial nomination

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FILE - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Ky., left, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., appear on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Jan. 11, 2017. Paul on Monday, July 18, 2022, accused McConnell of cutting a secret deal with the White House that fell apart, blaming a lack of communication by his fellow Kentuckian for the failure of a federal judicial nomination. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – U.S. Sen. Rand Paul on Monday accused Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of cutting “a secret deal with the White House that fell apart,” blaming a lack of communication by his fellow Kentuckian for the failure of a federal judicial nomination.

Further exposing long-simmering tensions between the state's two Republican senators, Paul commented on his own role in sinking the nomination last week of anti-abortion lawyer Chad Meredith for a federal judgeship in Kentucky.

The White House abruptly abandoned the nomination on Friday, pointing to the home-state resistance from Paul, who is seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate in this year's elections.

McConnell, a key player in putting conservatives on the federal bench during Donald Trump’s presidency, told The New York Times last week that the White House intended to follow through on its commitment to nominate Meredith until Paul objected.

McConnell told the newspaper that Paul's position was “just utterly pointless.”

Paul responded Monday that he supports Meredith and thought the conservative lawyer would make a good judge, but pointed to the process as the problem.

"Unfortunately, instead of communicating and lining up support for him, Senator McConnell chose to cut a secret deal with the White House that fell apart,” Paul said in a statement.

McConnell has insisted there was no deal over a Meredith nomination, pointing instead to his longstanding personal relationship with President Joe Biden.

In another dig at Paul, McConnell told the Times that the Democratic president “would not have been taking a recommendation from Rand Paul, I can assure you.” McConnell's office did not respond to Paul's statement when contacted Monday evening.

Biden had intended to nominate Meredith for a district court judgeship in eastern Kentucky. The plan, first revealed by The Courier Journal of Louisville, had languished for weeks. The potential nomination drew resistance from Democrats from Kentucky to Washington.

Meredith, a well-known conservative in Kentucky, defended the state’s anti-abortion laws in court. He also successfully defended a state law that stripped Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of his emergency power to implement COVID-19 restrictions.

Meredith previously served as chief deputy general counsel to former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican. Meredith then worked for Kentucky Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who appointed him as the commonwealth’s first solicitor general in 2019. He left government to join a law firm. Meredith’s father, Stephen Meredith, is a state senator in Kentucky.

Scott Jennings, a Kentuckian and former adviser to President George W. Bush, said Monday night that he hoped the “differences could be set aside” so Meredith could be nominated, if it’s not too late.

“I think the average conservative cares little about inside-the-beltway process arguments and more about outcomes, especially when it means pressing any judicial advantage we can get with a Democrat in the White House,” said Jennings, who has close ties to McConnell but counts himself as a supporter of both Kentucky senators. “I’m incredibly sad for Chad, who is talented and deserving.”

Abortion-rights supporters applauded the collapse of Meredith's nomination.

In a statement Friday, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju said: “We’re pleased that the Biden administration made this decision — it’s the right call. With abortion rights and access on the line in Kentucky and across the country, it is absolutely essential that all judges defend and uphold our fundamental rights and freedoms, including reproductive freedom.”

Meanwhile, the rift over the Meredith nomination's collapse is the latest flare-up between McConnell and Paul, who represent different wings of the GOP.

In 2010, McConnell backed Paul's chief rival for the GOP Senate nomination in Kentucky. The libertarian-leaning Paul went on to win election to the Senate, riding that year's tea party-driven wave. Over the years, they've settled into a working relationship, though tensions have flared occasionally over such issues as foreign policy and spending matters.