In a rare public rebuke of President Trump, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee urged the administration to reconsider the judicial nomination of Jeff Mateer, who was recently exposed on tape calling transgender kids “Satan’s plan.”
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said in exclusive comments to CNN he advised the White House to “reconsider” the nomination of Jeff Mateer, whom Trump nominated for a federal judgeship in Texas. Additionally, Grassley said the administration “should not proceed” with the nomination of Brett Talley, who Trump picked to become a federal judge in Alabama.
“I’ve advised the White House they ought to reconsider,” Grassley was quoted saying as he left a Judiciary Committee hearing. “I would advise the White House not to proceed.”
No explanation is provided in the CNN article for why Grassley recommended reconsideration of the judicial picks. Grassley’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment for clarification.
The reason may be they’re unable to succeed given opposition to the choices. Although opposition from LGBT rights advocates isn’t uncommon for Trump’s judicial nominees, Mateer has reached new heights after a video recording was unearthed following his nomination in which he called transgender kids “Satan’s plan.”
LGBT rights advocates have urged Trump to withdraw the nominee. Failing that, they say the U.S. Senate should defeat the nomination. At a Capitol Hill rally last month, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) joined LGBT rights advocates and mothers of transgender children in calling for defeat of the nomination.
David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Trump should heed the advice of Grassley and withdraw the nomination.
“With Sen. Grassley’s call for Trump to reconsider Mateer’s nomination, the writing is on the wall: Mateer has to go,” Stacy said. “Mateer has spent his career publicly voicing his contempt for LGBTQ people, opposing LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, and even attacking transgender children. As we have said from the beginning, the White House must immediately withdraw his nomination.”
Mateer, who’s now serving as the first assistant attorney general of Texas, made the comments about transgender kids during the same 2015 Iowa conference organized by pastor Kevin Swanson, who became infamous in the LGBT community for taking that opportunity to call for the death penalty for LGBT people. (Others in attendance were then-Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal.)
At the same conference, Mateer endorsed widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy and warned marriage equality would lead to polygamy.
Other reporting has emerged in which Mateer was shown to have said the contraception mandate in Obamacare was similar to religious crackdowns in Nazi Germany. Additionally, Mateer proclaimed “we discriminate” against gay people in the Baptist Church to justify anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religious freedom.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who initially supported Mateer, has since taken issue with the nominee for failing to disclose the remarks prior to his nomination, calling it a “serious breach of protocol.”
Talley, on the other hand, isn’t facing the same level of opposition from LGBT groups. Opposition to him is likely based on his lack of judicial experience. Although he’s a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, Talley has never tried a case and was unanimously rated “unqualified” by the American Bar Association.
The nomination of Mateer, who has yet to even have his confirmation hearing, remains pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee approved Talley last month, but his nomination hasn’t yet come before the full Senate.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday she was “not sure” if Grassley and Trump had directly spoken about the nominations, declining to answer directly if Trump intended to withdraw the nominees. The Blade has placed a request with the White House seeking more information.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved a different judicial pick who received an “unqualified” rating from the American Bar Association and who’s opposed by LGBT groups. By a vote of 50-48, senators approved the nomination of Steve Grasz for a seat on the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Grasz, who previously was senior counsel in the Omaha office of Husch Blackwell LLP, also served since 2015 on the board of the Nebraska Family Alliance, according to a Buzzfeed report.
This year alone, the Nebraska Family Alliance published two articles criticizing states for enacting bans on widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy for youth. The organization, according to Buzzfeed, stated it doesn’t have a position on the practice itself.
As Deputy Nebraska Attorney General in the 1990s, Grasz also stated anti-LGBT views, as pointed out by the Human Rights Campaign. Grasz opined non-discrimination protections for gay people could protect pedophiles and argued Nebraska shouldn’t recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state.
Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said in a statement the Senate “sank even lower” in its standards for judicial nominees with the confirmation of Grasz.
“Not since 2006 has a federal appellate court nominee unanimously rated unqualified by the ABA even gotten a hearing, much less a confirmation,” Aron said. “Grasz’s unfitness for the bench goes beyond his failure to meet the threshold set by the ABA: His record amply demonstrates that he is deeply hostile to the rights of others, most notably women and LGBTQ individuals, and raises questions about whether he would properly uphold Supreme Court precedent on the bench. Sadly, people living and working within the Eighth Circuit will have to pay the price for this mindless rubber-stamping of another Trump nominee.”
The Grasz nomination represents the latest Senate confirmation of a judicial nominee with questionable experience and an anti-LGBT record. The Senate has been confirming judicial picks at a record pace since the start of the Trump administration.
Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement Mateer and Talley are “just the tip of the iceberg” of Trump’s anti-LGBT and unqualified judicial nominees.
“We hope this will be a turning point, and we call on Chairman Grassley and other senators to reconsider these nominees as well, and to return to regular order in the Senate rather than rushing through extreme and unqualified nominees,” Tobin said.