Biden Drops Plan to Name Anti-Abortion Lawyer Backed by McConnell as Judge

WASHINGTON — The White House is abandoning plans to nominate a Kentucky lawyer who opposes abortion rights and is backed by Senator Mitch McConnell to a federal court seat, citing opposition from Senator Rand Paul, Mr. McConnell’s home-state colleague.

The resistance from Mr. McConnell’s fellow Republican marked a new twist over a potential nomination that had prompted outrage on the left. Democrats were incensed that President Biden’s team had agreed to advance a conservative chosen by Mr. McConnell to fill a district court vacancy as the party is stepping up its focus on countering new abortion restrictions.

The prospective nominee, Chad Meredith, had successfully defended Kentucky’s anti-abortion law as a lawyer for the state. Mr. Biden’s plan to nominate him was made public by The Louisville Courier-Journal just before the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade precedent that established abortion rights.

Mr. McConnell, the minority leader, who has a deep interest in shaping the federal judiciary, said the White House intended to follow through on its commitment to nominate Mr. Meredith until Mr. Paul objected. Mr. Paul informed the White House that he would not return a “blue slip” consenting to the nomination of Mr. Meredith, who is now in private practice.

The blue slip tradition followed by the Senate Judiciary Committee effectively gives home-state senators veto power over the selection of federal district court judges for their states.

“In considering potential district court nominees, the White House learned that Senator Rand Paul will not return a blue slip on Chad Meredith,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said Friday in a statement. “Therefore, the White House will not nominate Mr. Meredith.”

The outcome has left Mr. McConnell frustrated and some Democrats mystified. It pulled back the curtain on a seldom discussed back channel of communication that remains between Mr. McConnell and Mr. Biden, who were once negotiating partners in the Senate but who have more recently had little to do with one another as the Kentucky Republican works to sink the Democratic president’s agenda.

Still, Mr. McConnell said he had persuaded the White House to do him a “personal favor” by putting a young conservative on the bench, only to be thwarted by a Republican colleague.

“The net result of this is it has prevented me from getting my kind of judge out of a liberal Democratic president,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview, calling Mr. Paul’s position “just utterly pointless.”

Mr. Meredith, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, would have replaced Judge Karen Caldwell, 66, an appointee of President George W. Bush in 2001. Last month, she announced her intention to take senior judicial status, a move that would allow her to reduce her workload while creating a vacancy for the White House to fill. She gave no specific date for her departure, which could hinge on who is picked to replace her.

Mr. Paul’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the disclosure by Mr. McConnell and the White House.

But Democrats had made it clear they were displeased with the potential nomination of Mr. Meredith, wondering aloud why Mr. Biden would have agreed to name a person who opposed abortion rights, and what he might have extracted from Republicans in return.

“I said, what’s in it for us?” Senator Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters this week, describing how he pressed the White House on the Kentucky court seat nomination. “They haven’t given me a specific answer.”

Mr. McConnell said that he had made no pledge to the White House to do anything in return for Mr. Biden accepting his recommendation, an appeal he made through Ron Klain, the chief of staff.

“There was no deal,” said Mr. McConnell, adding that Mr. Biden’s consideration represented the kind of “collegiality” and once routine cooperation on home-state judges that has diminished in recent years. “This was a personal friendship gesture.”

Democrats had sharply questioned why Mr. Biden would put forward a nominee backed by Mr. McConnell, considering that the Republican leader blocked Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick in 2016 and has been a main impediment to the president’s agenda.

New details of the White House arrangement with Mr. McConnell also came as internal Democratic negotiations over a major tax and energy policy measure fell apart because of objections from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans, who unanimously opposed the measure in the Senate, were celebrating.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, had called the impending nomination “indefensible” and urged the White House to drop the idea. Representative John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky, was outraged as well. With Mr. Biden in the White House, Democrats assumed they — not their nemesis Mr. McConnell — would be consulted on home-state nominations.

Mr. Beshear also pointed to Mr. Meredith’s possible connection to pardons issued by former Gov. Matt Bevin that have come under intense scrutiny, saying any role in those pardons would be disqualifying. But Mr. McConnell noted that Mr. Meredith cleared an F.B.I. background check done in preparation for the nomination.

“The F.B.I. check confirmed he had nothing to do with it,” Mr. McConnell said of the pardons.

The blockade of Mr. Meredith has also disappointed his allies in Kentucky.

“He is one of the most ethical people I’ve met in terms of watching him in the limelight over the past several years,” said April Wimberg, the president of the Louisville chapter of the Federalist Society. “I was very surprised that anyone, and especially Senator Paul, would have any opposition to him.”

Had it gone forward, the nomination of Mr. Meredith would have been a significant departure from the background of judicial nominees the White House has sent to the Senate over the first years of the administration. In contrast to the corporate lawyers and prosecutors traditionally favored by presidents of both parties, the Biden White House has focused on putting forward minorities historically underrepresented on the bench as well as public defenders and lawyers with experience in civil rights law.

Mr. McConnell noted that Mr. Klain had conceded in their discussions that Mr. Meredith was “certainly not the kind of person we would normally nominate,” but the senator argued that the move was simply trading one Republican-backed judge for another.

“It is not giving away a seat,” said Mr. McConnell, who said he never discussed the potential nomination directly with Mr. Biden. “He’s got bigger stuff on his plate than this.”

Mr. McConnell raised the possibility that Mr. Paul might have believed that it was his turn to put forward a judicial candidate. But Mr. McConnell said that the two Kentucky senators had no agreement on such matters and that he doubted Mr. Biden would have given Mr. Paul the same consideration regardless.

“The president would not have been taking a recommendation from Rand Paul, I can assure you,” said Mr. McConnell, who noted his longstanding personal relationship with Mr. Biden.

Though the president’s long tenure on Capitol Hill and his past work with Mr. McConnell were initially thought to be big advantages, they have not worked out that way for Mr. Biden. Mr. McConnell has been a persistent obstacle and in recent days threatened to try to block legislation intended to improve American competitiveness with China — a measure Mr. McConnell supported — if Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats proceeded with a party-line tax bill.

Mr. McConnell and Mr. Paul have also parted ways on issues over the years. Mr. McConnell originally endorsed his Republican opponent during Mr. Paul’s initial successful Senate bid in 2010. But despite their break over the judicial nomination, Mr. McConnell said he backed Mr. Paul’s re-election bid this year.

“Of course,” said Mr. McConnell, who hopes to remain party leader, particularly if Republicans claim the Senate majority in November. “On the most important vote, he will be there.”

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