The Backroom Briefing: The Politics of Trump’s High Court Pick


Responses to President Donald Trump’s choice of U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court broke predictably along party lines among Florida politicians and activists, garnering laurels from Republicans and darts from Democrats.

The voices from Florida that matter the most in the pending summer drama — U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio — echoed their respective party mantras but remained somewhat non-committal.

Rubio, a Republican, called Kavanaugh “a qualified, mainstream jurist,” but wouldn’t say how he’ll vote in the Senate confirmation.

“My decision on whether to ultimately support Kavanaugh’s nomination will be based on his commitment to original intent, judicial restraint, and the understanding that the Supreme Court is a ‘trier of law’ appellate court and not a ‘trier of fact’ trial court,” Rubio stated. “This is critically important because too many in the federal judicial system today believe it is appropriate for judges to craft new policies and rights instead of interpreting and defending the Constitution as written.”

Nelson, who’s in what could be the re-election fight of his lengthy political life in a November match-up against Gov. Rick Scott, outlined what he wants to hear from the appellate judge, who’s been involved in a number of Sunshine State issues, including being part of President George W. Bush’s campaign team during the Florida recount in 2000.

“I look forward to meeting with the president’s nominee in the coming weeks to discuss his views on several important issues such as protecting women’s rights, guaranteeing access to health care for those with pre-existing conditions and protecting the right to vote, just to name a few,” Nelson said in a statement. “I will make my decision after that.”

The National Republican Senate Committee rejoiced in the dilemma facing Nelson.

“Bill Nelson has to decide whether he’s willing to risk his Senate seat just to placate the liberal activists who are hell-bent on blocking an eminently qualified nominee to the Supreme Court,” NRSC Spokesperson Camille Gallo said. “Florida voters are watching Nelson closely, and if he abandons them to stand with Chuck Schumer and Senate liberals it will be fresh in their minds when they head to the polls in November.”

But Scott, through his campaign, gave himself leeway.

“I am glad President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and look forward to learning more about his record,” Scott tweeted, adding that Nelson needed to give the nominee a “fair hearing.”


Florida’s top-of-the-ticket pols may be tight-lipped about Kavanaugh, but other Sunshine State GOP leaders took part in the national full-court press launched by Republicans in the push for his speedy confirmation.

Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach lawyer and former state House member who regularly appears on Fox News to tout Trump, joined Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia in a press call to root for the president’s Supreme Court pick and to threaten U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats who might drag out the judge’s confirmation.

Gaetz made clear where Kavanaugh stands on abortion, an issue that has abortion-rights supporters calling for the judge to be rejected and abortion opponents cheering Trump’s choice.

“It’s clear that he will defend unborn life. His decisions have reflected an opposition to the type of abortion on demand that we think will be a productive direction for the court,” Gaetz said.

But, he added, Kavanaugh “isn’t on a jihad to overturn” the seminal Roe v. Wade decision that cemented women’s abortion rights.

Ingoglia warned that it would backfire if Nelson stands in the way of the judge’s confirmation.

“We are not that far away from a general election, so the longer Democrats drag this out, the better it’s going to be for Republicans,” the party chief said, adding that a delay would “get Republicans excited and motivated” to remove “obstructionists.”

Even with Kavanaugh on the court, Gaetz said he didn’t believe justices would completely ban abortion. But they could sign off on controversial state laws, such as laws that would define life as a fetus’ ability to experience pain or as the presence of a heartbeat, the congressman predicted.

Ingoglia discounted a possible backlash from pro-choice Republican women in November, saying abortion is a key issue for most GOP voters during midterm elections.

“There are plenty of pro-choice Republicans, but I will tell you that it would be a motivating factor for the base, if you had a bunch of people, (like) Bill Nelson, coming out and saying they did not want to confirm Judge Kavanaugh based upon that issue,” he said.


Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis came under fire by Democrats, the NAACP and others following a report by the freshly-minted, Tallahassee-based Florida Phoenix that highlighted his questioning of a black clemency applicant last month.

Patronis asked Erwin Jones how many children he had, and followed up with “how many different mothers to those children?”

Patronis’ campaign this week defended the Cabinet member by circulating info on previous queries he’s made of white clemency applicants at three separate hearings.

Critics blasted Patronis’ questions to Jones as racist, have called for him to apologize and want him recuse himself from future clemency hearings.There are only two on the schedule for the remainder of the year.

But, according to Patronis’ campaign spokeswoman Katie Strickland, “the focus of the conversation was about how to best protect all involved and the community from a convicted felon with a decades-long history of arrests.”

Jeremy Ring, a Democrat who’s challenging Patronis in his re-election bid, said his opponent’s remarks “reeks of racism.” The NAACP questioned Patronis’ “fitness to participate in the clemency process.” And the Florida Democratic Party demanded an apology from Patronis for his “undeniably racist” questioning.

“His questions had nothing to do with voting rights,” FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo said in a release.

But Strickland, who called the NAACP complaints “baseless and hateful attacks,” said Patronis often asks “people of all backgrounds” about their child-support arrangements.

The press release from Patronis’ campaign included transcripts of and links to a trio of clemency hearings in which the CFO questioned white men seeking to have their rights restored about their kids and about whether the dads were keeping up with their child-support payments.

In the June 18 hearing, after Jones replied that he had six children, Patronis asked “Six? How many different mothers to those children?”

In a separate press release responding to Ring, Strickland said Patronis’ line of questioning was taken out of context.

“Anyone who actually listens to the discussion from this clemency meeting knows that it centered on how to best protect the public good from a convicted felon with history of domestic violence,” Strickland said. “The domestic violence incidents involved different women, and in one case a woman was sent to the hospital and in another case a child was harmed.”

Strickland said Patronis’ conversation with Jones was about child-support arrangements, which are coordinated through a child’s mother.

Jones’ request for clemency was denied, after Attorney General Pam Bondi noted he had a history of domestic abuse.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “I was proud to be the honorary starter at the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach yesterday. It’s great to see events like this in FL that have a rich history of honoring our military.” — Gov. Rick Scott (@FLGovScott), a Republican running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, on Sunday.