Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., joined a growing chorus of Republicans bashing President Joe Biden's Supreme Court nominee — well before the president has picked anyone — even as Republican leaders try to avoid a losing fight ahead of the midterms.
Republican Senate leaders worry that picking a fight over Biden's nominee to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, when they lack enough votes to block the nomination, would be "counterproductive" and could "backfire" by distracting from key election issues, according to Wednesday's edition of Politico Playbook. (Judicial nominations cannot be blocked through a Senate filibuster, a change introduced by Republicans when they held the majority.) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told members on Tuesday that replacing a liberal justice with another liberal would not affect the balance of the court, especially after the party packed the court with conservatives under former President Donald Trump.
But some Republican senators have repeatedly attacked Biden for vowing to nominate a Black woman to the court, even though Trump and former President Ronald Reagan similarly vowed to nominate women to diversify a court that has been dominated by white men for generations.
"No. 1, I want a nominee who knows a law book from a J.Crew catalog," Kennedy told Politico Tuesday after meeting with the GOP leaders. "No. 2, I want a nominee who's not going to try to rewrite the Constitution every other Thursday to try to advance a 'woke agenda.'"
Kennedy, an Oxford-educated lawyer and career politician, rebranded himself as a folksy Republican after a long stint as a Democrat. Louisiana publications have likened his one-liners to Foghorn Leghorn but people who knew him before he became a prominent Republican told BuzzFeed News last year that it's all an act (which he denies).
"John Kennedy is not folksy — he's just offensive," MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan tweeted in response to Kennedy's comment to Politico.
"Kennedy manages to squeeze in sexism, racism, and his fake down home Foghorn Leghorn bit all in about 15 words," wrote Fred Wellman, the former executive director of the Lincoln Project. "Enough is enough with this con artist."
Kennedy rejected GOP leaders' pleas to tone down the rhetoric on Biden's nomination.
"I think some members of leadership think they can control what people want to talk about," he told Politico. "I don't agree with that proposition. I'm going to talk about what I want to talk about, and if they don't like that, they can call somebody who cares."
Kennedy has frequently used the puzzling J.Crew quip in response to a range of issues.
"Anyone who knows a law book from a J.Crew catalog does not take this charge seriously," he declared during Trump's first impeachment.
"Anyone who knows a law book from a J.Crew catalog knows that Democrats' attempt to add D.C. as a state is unconstitutional," he said in a Fox News interview last year.
"Nobody knows what he even means by 'a law book,'" tweeted attorney Max Kennerly. "A casebook? Only students use those. The Federal Reporter? No one calls that a 'book.' A John Grisham novel?"
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Other Republican senators have also attacked Biden for vowing to nominate a Black woman.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., suggested last week that Biden's nominee would be a "beneficiary" of affirmative action policies.
The White House fired back by citing Wicker's very different response to Trump's promise to nominate a woman.
"When the previous president followed through on his own promise to place a woman on the Supreme Court, Sen. Wicker said, 'I have five granddaughters, the oldest one is 10. I think Justice Amy Coney Barrett will prove to be an inspiration to these five granddaughters and to my grown daughters,'" White House spokesman Andrew Bates told CNN. "We hope Sen. Wicker will give President Biden's nominee the same consideration he gave to then-Judge Barrett."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said over the weekend that it would be "offensive" and "insulting" to select a Black woman because Black women only make up 6% of the population.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted on Tuesday that Cruz "had no objection to Donald Trump promising he'd nominate a woman in 2020" and had praised Barrett as a "role model for little girls."
"There is no outcry around that," Psaki said. "The president's view is that after 230 years of the Supreme Court being in existence, the fact that not a single Black woman has served on the Supreme Court is a failure in the process."
That sentiment was echoed by Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham is backing the same potential nominee as Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., that being South Carolina District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs.
"Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America. You know, we make a real effort as Republicans to recruit women and people of color to make the party look more like America," Graham told CBS News on Sunday. "Affirmative action is picking somebody not as well qualified for past wrongs. Michelle Childs is incredibly qualified. There's no affirmative action component if you pick her. I can't think of a better person for President Biden to consider for the Supreme Court than Michelle Childs."
Biden is also reportedly considering D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review who clerked for three federal judges, including retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, a former editor of the Yale Law Journal who argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court while serving in the Justice Department under Barack Obama, is also in the running.
Republicans' attacks have little to do with the candidates' qualifications, and even less to do with the makeup of the court, given that 108 of 115 Supreme Court justices in U.S. history have been white men.
The attacks are intended to "reiterate the narrative that liberals elevate unqualified Black Americans at the expense of others who are truly deserving" to reinforce the messages that "advocacy for equal rights is turning white conservatives into an oppressed class," wrote The Atlantic's Adam Serwer. "If the Republicans seeking to stoke resentment over this appointment can successfully turn the story of the first Black woman on the Supreme Court into another example of Black people getting free stuff they haven't earned, they will be perfectly satisfied, even if she is confirmed," he wrote. "The important battles over the future of the Court have already taken place, and the right has already won them."
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