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Rand Paul lights into McConnell over ‘secret’ judicial deal

All is not well in Kentucky’s Senate delegation.

Sen. Rand Paul unloaded on fellow Republican Mitch McConnell for the Senate GOP leader’s handling of an anti-abortion judicial nomination, criticizing McConnell for refusing to consult with him about abandoned nominee Chad Meredith. The White House pulled Meredith’s nomination last week, with both McConnell and administration officials blaming Paul for refusing to sign off.

Now, the two Bluegrass State Republicans are involved in a back and forth, reigniting an intraparty and intrastate fight.

On Monday, Paul said McConnell was working behind his back on a “secret deal” with President Joe Biden and said it was “a little bit insulting” that he learned of the nomination from an FBI background check on Meredith.

“McConnell’s to blame for tanking this because he tried to do it secretly, Democrats caught wind up in the state. And they also tried to do it secret[ly]” and go around McConnell’s home state partner, Paul told reporters. “We never heard about it from McConnell’s office. And his people simply said, ‘you can’t do this but we can.’ You know, ‘we’re so powerful, we can do whatever we want.’”

McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s just the latest clash between McConnell and Paul, perhaps the oddest couple of same-party home-state senators in the chamber. When he first ran for the Senate in 2010, Paul defeated McConnell’s preferred candidate, Trey Grayson, and has been among the most conservative senators ever since. And the Meredith nomination isn’t the first time he’s tried to thwart McConnell’s plans, causing headaches for the Republican leader on everything from foreign policy to defense to spending issues.

McConnell is far more distant from former President Donald Trump than Paul, but in recent years the two settled into an uneasy alliance: McConnell endorsed Paul’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential run and the two have worked together on their respective Senate races in recent years. That thaw appears to be over, for now at least.

A person with direct knowledge of Meredith’s nomination process said McConnell and Paul’s staff had discussed Meredith’s nomination repeatedly: “We’ve had conversations for months about this on the staff level.”

“Senators are together a lot, there’s no lack of access between any senators, certainly senators of the same party,” the person said. “The conservative base does not care about an inside the Beltway process argument. They would like a Federalist Society rock star in a lifetime judicial seat.”

Home-state senators typically consult on judicial picks, with both senators generally returning a “blue slip” that allows the nomination to move forward on lower-level district court judges. A White House spokesperson last week said that “Sen. Rand Paul will not return a blue slip on Chad Meredith.”

Paul said he supports Meredith and his anti-abortion views but that McConnell’s handling of the process caused him to speak up.

“We have no reason to be opposed to Chad Meredith, other than we want at least the courtesy of … the minority leader, thinking that he’s not so important that he doesn’t have to talk to his fellow state senator,” Paul fumed. “The left ended up hating it, but also even his colleagues — myself — weren’t too happy about him doing it without having any discussion.”

It’s unlikely that the Democratic Senate would have confirmed Meredith anyway, given his conservative views and the opposition from several leading liberals that stemmed in part from his anti-abortion rights stance. With the issue under increased scrutiny after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wavered on even the idea of a hearing for Meredith.

But McConnell sought to ensure Paul faced blame for the impasse, telling the New York Times that Paul’s position was “utterly pointless” and castigating his colleague for undermining a potential conservative judicial appointment by a Democratic president. McConnell said the nomination was a personal gesture to him and not a part of a broader deal over a larger judicial package. He also disparaged Paul’s sway with Biden: “The president would not have been taking a recommendation from Rand Paul, I can assure you.”

Asked about the status of his relationship with McConnell on Monday, Paul replied: “I think I’ve said enough.”

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