White House: Cornyn, Cruz ‘Intellectually Dishonest’ on Judges

Cruz aide deems Obama spokesman's criticisms 'pretty rich'

Texas Sens. John Cornyn, left, and Ted Cruz hit back against criticism from the White House for their stances on federal court vacancies. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Texas Sens. John Cornyn, left, and Ted Cruz hit back against criticism from the White House for their stances on federal court vacancies. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 15, 2016 at 5:14pm

President Barack Obama’s top spokesman is calling Texas’ Republican senators “intellectually dishonest” for blocking the president’s Supreme Court nominee while calling for federal court seats in their home state to be filled.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest questioned how Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and former presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz could support the ongoing blockade of Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination while also pushing for the confirmation of five Obama federal court nominees in the Lone Star State.

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“In some cases, you might actually just question the intellectual honesty of some of these senators, particularly people like [Cornyn and Cruz] that are now advocating for the confirmation of Obama-nominated justices in Texas,” Earnest told reporters Thursday. “You can’t have it both ways.”

Obama nominated Garland, chief judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in March to the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But Senate Republicans have vowed not to hold hearings or a vote on his confirmation until after the November election. 

White House officials believe it defies logic to be concerned about the potential ramifications of federal court vacancies in one state but not about the possible consequences of having only eight of nine seats on the  Supreme Court filled.

“So Republicans are playing politics with, this issue in a way that’s intellectually dishonest,” Earnest said, adding that it could further drive down lawmakers’ already low approval ratings.

Spokesmen for Cornyn and Cruz were quick to hit back. 

A Cornyn aide, referring to Obama’s time as an Illinois senator, said that it is “hard for someone who as senator helped write the playbook on filibustering Supreme Court nominees to complain about people blocking his.” She was referring to Obama’s support for a 2006 Democratic filibuster effort against the nomination of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Phil Novack, a Cruz spokesman, called Earnest’s comments “pretty rich” because “the American people know the difference” between a lower-court seat and one on the high court. The latter, he said has higher stakes because “another liberal” Supreme Court justice could mean gun rights and other issues could be “jeopardized.”

White House aides have countered those charges before, pointing out that as senator, Obama favored confirmation hearings and floor proceedings for the Alito nomination.

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Obama, a decade later, believes that he and his Senate Democratic colleagues “didn’t focus more on making an effective public case about those substantive objections,” Earnest told reporters in February, shortly after Scalia’s death.

“Instead, some Democrats engaged in a process of throwing sand in the gears of the confirmation process,” Earnest said. “And that’s an approach that the president regrets.”

There are 10 federal court vacancies that have created a backlog of cases.

Cornyn and Cruz recommended the five Texas court nominees to Obama, according to The Dallas Morning News. A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week to examine the five nominees was a routine affair, with no red flags popping up, the newspaper reported.

“We’re going to have to work that out,” Cornyn said last Wednesday. “If we can’t get it done before the election, then perhaps after the election that’s something we could work on.”

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.