Republican Sen. Josh Hawley has concerns about the President’s nominee to take the seat formerly held by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the powerful DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
A source familiar with the Missouri freshman’s thinking confirms that he is questioning the views of Neomi Rao and is currently undecided on whether he will support her nomination. He has expressed that to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Hawley, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has concerns about the fact that Rao has never been a litigator, according to the source who says Hawley is also unsure of her stance on Roe v. Wade.
Hawley’s main concern, however, is Rao’s judicial philosophy and the lack of a record on substantive due process. She’s never been a litigator on the subject, so he cannot tell how she would act, but her writings indicate she might be okay with substantive due process, according to the source.
The news comes as the Trump administration’s judicial confirmation process – that almost seamlessly pushed through a record number of appellate court nominees as well as two Supreme Court nominees during Trump’s first two years in office – seems to be fraying.
Just a few weeks ago conservatives Hugh Hewitt and Carrie Severino publicly questioned why the White House hadn’t renominated individuals for the 9th circuit. The criticism seemed to trigger the White House to hastily put forward names.
Now the nomination of Rao, who is meant to take the seat vacated by Kavanaugh, is being questioned by a new member of the committee.
It also comes as there are several new players on the scene. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina replaced Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, bringing with him a new team. Additionally, Pat Cipollone replaced Don McGahn as White House counsel.
Axios first reported Hawley’s concerns. Hawley told Axios that he is “only going to support nominees who have a strong record on life” and that he said that he has “heard directly from at least one individual who said Rao personally told them she was pro-choice,” but he added he does not know if that is accurate. He also expressed concerns about her judicial philosophy.
Axios also reported that another Republican senator reached out to the outlet expressing concerns about Rao. Axios did not name that senator.
In addition to concerns raised by Democrats, Rao’s path to confirmation has already faced obstacles from the Republican side of the aisle. She has expressed regret and apologized for college writings on sexual assault in which she suggested women should change their behavior to avoid date rape. One of those who said Rao’s writing gave her “pause” was Iowa Republican Sen Joni Ernst. Ernst told CNN recently that she met with Rao after the confirmation hearing and that she feels “a lot better” after meeting with Rao “one on one.”
Hawley is also receiving push back from prominent conservative players.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a group dedicated to supporting Trump’s nominees, has taken to comparing Hawley to former Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. A source close to the group also told CNN that it plans to spend $500,000 on ads in Missouri in a widespread effort to show Hawley “that support for conservative judicial nominees is not negotiable.”
Severino, who serves as the chief counsel and policy director for the group, has also taken aim at Hawley, comparing him to McCaskill and saying in a statement that instead of supporting Rao, “he is spreading the very same kind of rumors and innuendo and character assassination that Republican leaders fought during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation.”
“Hawley could be working to confirm her and other extraordinary nominees, but it seems he’d rather be making headlines,” Severino wrote.
Rao’s nomination also has the support of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, whose chairman, Ralph Reed, said in a statement that Rao is “eminently qualified” and that she “will make an outstanding judge on the DC Circuit Court if Appeals.”
“Faith & Freedom Coalition strongly supports her nomination and urges the Senate to swiftly confirm her,” Reed wrote.
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.