Politics & Government

Sen. Tim Scott helps block Trump administration nominee

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. is the key sponsor of opportunity zones.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. is the key sponsor of opportunity zones. AP

Sen. Tim Scott is known for being a happy warrior in the Republican party, but has shown he’s unafraid to stand up to GOP leaders.

On Thursday, the South Carolina Republican helped force the withdrawal of a nominee for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals whose racially-charged academic writings from decades earlier mocked multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity.

Though Scott has voted for most of President Donald Trump’s most controversial appointees — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — it’s the third time since the start of Trump’s presidency he has successfully helped block a nominee from advancing.

The Senate’s only black Republican, Scott shared his concerns about the appeals court nominee, Ryan Bounds of Oregon, with his colleagues at Senate Republicans’ lunch meeting Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Bounds’ nomination a few months earlier after Bounds apologized for a series of articles he’d written as a Stanford University student in the 1990s, which he said reflected the “overheated” political rhetoric on campus at the time.

Among other things, Bounds had written that groups at Stanford “divide up by race for their feel-good ethnic hoedowns,” and that “existence of ethnic organizations is no inevitable prerequisite to maintaining a diverse community—white students, after all, seem to be doing all right without an Aryan Student Union.”

As senators Thursday were set to head to the chamber floor to cast their votes to confirm that very nominee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced the White House had withdrawn Bounds entirely, uninterested in allowing the vote to proceed knowing the support was not there for confirmation.

Afterward, Scott was reluctant to comment to reporters at length about what had transpired. He told reporters he had spoken with Bounds on the phone Wednesday night and met with him in person earlier on Thursday.

“The information that I had (about Bounds) was insufficient for me to be a ‘yes’ vote,” said Scott, who also refused to elaborate on what concerned him and what additional details might have changed his mind.

With all Democrats planning to vote “no,” and the Senate GOP’s 51-vote majority — currently 50 votes, given Sen. John McCain of Arizona’s absence due to brain cancer treatment — Scott could have single-handedly blocked Bounds. But Scott wasn’t the only one with concerns.

He told reporters he “had not tried to convince anybody to do anything. I just shared my thoughts and others said they were willing to join and either ask for more information so we could have a better picture of simply say ‘no.’”

One of those members who was privy to Scott’s thoughts was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, with whom Scott became close during the 2016 presidential campaign. Scott endorsed Rubio for president during the primary season.

Rubio told reporters Thursday Scott had spoken with him about his troubles with Bounds, and after that conversation Rubio was prepared to vote against him. Scott confirmed Rubio’s account.

A source familiar with discussions said once Scott and Rubio were on board, other Republicans felt comfortable withdrawing their support, too.

Scott’s fellow South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham voted in favor of Bounds’ nomination earlier this year as a judiciary committee member. Graham could be the chairman in the next Congress.

Graham told reporters Thursday he knew “Tim had some concerns” but had not spoken to him about them. Graham also wouldn’t say whether he would have voted for Bounds had the Senate floor vote proceeded as planned, reiterating he had to speak to Scott.

In late December, Scott was also a deciding factor in whether President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Export-Import Bank, Scott Garrett, should be confirmed.

Scott was one of two Republican votes in the Senate Banking Committee that blocked Garrett, who crusaded against the agency as a former member of Congress, from being considered on the Senate floor. South Carolina’s economy depends heavily on the Ex-Im Bank, and Scott could not be convinced Garrett wouldn’t try to dismantle the institution from within.

The Senate Banking Committee actually held a hearing on Thursday to consider a new Ex-Im Bank president nominee, Kimberly Reed, whom Scott recently told McClatchy was a “consensus pick” he could probably support.

In February 2017, Trump was forced to withdraw his nomination of Andrew Pudzer to serve as labor secretary after revelations surfaced the fast food executive had allegedly abused his ex-wife. Scott conceded after the fact that he had let leaders know he was not necessarily prepared to support him.

Alex Daugherty of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.