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White House speeds up rapid selection process for Breyer replacement

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White House speeds up rapid selection process for Breyer replacement

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WASHINGTON — With his presidential bid pending, Joe Biden announced during a debate in South Carolina in February 2020 that he would nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court if elected. This turned out to be a watershed moment in the campaign.

Now, the opportunity to follow through on that pledge may serve as a similar inflection point for his presidency.

Although the White House and Biden himself have withheld any comment on the impending vacancy until Judge Stephen Breyer officially announces his retirement, a senior White House official told NBC News that internal preparations are ongoing. were now speeding up for what could be a quick selection process.

Biden, who learned of Breyer’s impending retirement midway through last week, is expected to put forward a nominee relatively quickly, people familiar with the process said. But the first decision that has been offered to the president is whether to publicly affirm his campaign promise to select a black woman, or simply allow it to be understood as his intent.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki dodged the question, saying only that Biden had already reiterated that commitment “and is certainly sticking to it.”

No decision has yet been made on whether a current White House official would be designated as a contact person for the search process, the official said, although chief of staff Ron Klain, a former chief Biden attorney when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and White House attorney Dana Remus will likely play a key role.

But Biden’s team has been preparing for this moment for a long time. Ahead of his inauguration last year, Biden’s transition team, led by Remus and former Obama White House attorney Bob Bauer, made a presentation to the president-elect on potential Supreme Court selections. — preparations seen as critical, given Biden’s campaign commitment and the likelihood of a vacancy early in his term.

This presentation coincided with the decision to appoint Merrick Garland, then a member of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, as Attorney General. After Garland was confirmed as head of the Justice Department, Biden quickly named Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace him, having already considered her for further promotion should the opportunity arise.

Jackson is one of eight black women Biden has nominated to serve on the appeals courts since taking office, the last of which was nominated last week. Four, including Jackson, have already been confirmed. Eight other black women were already sitting on the appeals courts when Biden took office, providing a sort of obvious bench for his team.

Psaki also declined to comment on whether Biden might consider his VP for the vacancy, reigniting a favorite Washington guessing game as Kamala Harris struggles to find her place in the No. 2 job. Harris might be needed to confirm which one Biden will ultimately choose.

“The president has every intention, as he has said before, of running for re-election and running for re-election with Vice President Harris as his partner,” Psaki said Wednesday.

By making what would be a landmark nomination, Biden and congressional Democrats have a chance to reset politically after a difficult few months that included the inability to change Senate rules to advance voting rights bills that have been a priority for his party base. A recent NBC News poll showed Biden’s approval rating has declined from both center and left, with support among black voters falling to just 64% from 83% last April.

White House speeds up rapid selection process for Breyer replacement

 |  Latest News Headlines

Biden, pressed at his press conference last week about growing disappointment among black voters with his presidency so far, defended his record.

“I had their back. I have supported them my entire career,” he replied. “I never had their back.”

People familiar with the process said Biden would nominate someone with experience to do the job and aim for quick confirmation.

“The question is who on the other side of the Senate aisle will try to block him,” a source said.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision in 2017 to lower the confirmation threshold for Supreme Court nominees to a simple majority paves the way for any Biden pick to advance with votes alone. democrats. A successful confirmation would give Democrats a clear and concise message to help energize party voters who have been discouraged by infighting over infrastructure and the Build Back Better bills.

Senate Democrats are aiming to confirm any nominee within a timeframe similar to that Republicans used to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett, according to a Democratic source familiar with the leaders’ thinking.

Barrett, nominated just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, was confirmed in 27 days; Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed in 88 days and Judge Neil Gorsuch in 65 days. The historical average from nomination to final Senate vote is 67 days, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Biden will have the distinction of appointing the replacement for a judge whose confirmation he presided over as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1994. The president’s deep experience in confirmation battles has been central to his political resume. , sometimes used against him by Republicans. .

When President Barack Obama nominated Garland in 2016 following the sudden death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, McConnell justified his decision to block any consideration of the selection — even a committee hearing — by pointing to comments Biden made in June 1992 warning then President George HW. Bush against attempting to fill a hypothetical vacancy in a presidential election year.

Marc Murray , Frank Thorp V and Julie Tsirkin contributed.

White House speeds up rapid selection process for Breyer replacement

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