Exclusive: Grassley urges Trump to reconsider controversial judicial picks

Story highlights

  • Grassley: 'I would advise the White House not to proceed'
  • Comments amount to an unusual brake on Trump's bid to fill the judiciary with conservatives

Washington (CNN)Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley issued a rare rebuke Tuesday of two of President Donald Trump's most controversial judicial nominees, urging the White House to rethink the picks.

Grassley told CNN that he is advising the White House to "reconsider" the nomination of Jeff Mateer, who was selected to become a federal judge in Texas. He said the White House "should not proceed" on the nomination of Brett Talley, whom Trump picked to become a federal judge in Alabama.
"I've advised the White House they ought to reconsider," Grassley said as he left a Judiciary Committee hearing. "I would advise the White House not to proceed."
    Grassley's comments amount to an unusual brake on Trump's bid to fill the judiciary with young conservative voices. The Senate has moved at an unprecedented pace this year to seat federal judges but controversy has surrounded the Mateer and Talley nominations.
    Talley's nomination has already gone through the Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a vote from the full Senate. Mateer's nomination still needs committee approval.
    It's unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will ultimately schedule a floor vote for Talley. A McConnell aide said it's "premature" to say what will happen with any of the pending district court judges because the Senate is currently considering the nominations of three circuit court judges and then will turn to the tax bill, government funding, and other pressing year-end issues.
    But a White House official said Wednesday that both nominations won't move forward after concerns from Grassley and others.
    BuzzFeed News first reported late Tuesday Talley's offered to withdraw his nomination last week. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, asked Talley to back out of the nomination.
    "While the senator believes that Brett Talley is a great young attorney, he spoke with him last week and asked for his letter of withdrawal in hopes that Mr. Talley can gain more experience," Shelby spokesperson Blair Bailey Taylor said in a statement.
    Both Talley and the Department of Justice declined to comment.
    Asked about this story at Tuesday's briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said she wasn't sure if Trump and Grassley have "spoken directly" about the issue.
    As CNN first reported, Mateer said in 2015 that transgender children are part of "Satan's plan." His home state senator, Republican John Cornyn, is taking issue with the fact that Mateer did not disclose the speeches where he made the eyebrow-raising remarks.
    "On the Mateer case, he did not disclose the information before the judicial evaluation committee," he said. "That's a serious breach of protocol."
    Meanwhile, controversy has built around Talley since he was approved by the Judiciary Committee last month. An online comment he wrote in 2011 surfaced defending the early KKK. He also didn't disclose his wife's top White House job as a potential conflict of interest on his Senate questionnaire.
    The developments have caused other Republicans to break ranks. Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy said Tuesday he wouldn't vote for either Talley or Mateer and that he didn't think they would have the votes to be confirmed on the Senate floor.
    "Nor should they," he added. "I think the President, as I've said before, has been given some very, very bad advice."
    Even with these nominees in peril, Democrats are still stung by the speed at which Republicans are moving other judicial picks through the process. So far this year, the Senate has voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and 10 circuit court nominees -- the most of any president in his first year since Richard Nixon. Neither of the embattled nominees is for those more powerful circuit court positions.
    There are over two dozen judicial nominees pending on the Senate floor.
    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary committee, said in a statement Tuesday that Talley and Mateer "should not be federal judges" and urged Grassley to slow down the process.
    "I would hope that Chairman Grassley's request that the White House pull these nominations leads him to reconsider the breakneck speed at which the Judiciary Committee has been considering nominees," Feinstein said. "Moving so quickly makes it more likely that senators will be caught by surprise and end up having to vote for someone whose record they weren't fully aware of."