President Trump’s aggressive push to fill scores of federal court vacancies with conservative judges hit a bump last this week, as he was forced to withdraw two nominees and an embarrassing video went viral showing a third struggling to answer rudimentary questions about the law, the Washington Post reports. The White House is standing by the nomination of Matthew Petersen for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia despite a clip from his confirmation hearing posted on Twitter in which Petersen was unable to answer questions from a Republican senator about legal and courtroom terms. The episode offered more ammunition to Democrats, who say Trump is tapping inexperienced nominees.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley defended Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission since 2008 with no trial experience, saying the regulatory panel handles “the very kinds of issues” the court decides. Senate Republicans tout their work with Trump on judges as “the sleeper story of the year.” This year is the first since 2006 in which the GOP has controlled both the presidency and Senate, presenting a prime opportunity to fill lifetime appointments. There are 143 vacancies on the federal bench. Only one GOP senator, John Kennedy of Louisiana, has voted against a Trump judicial nominee. Last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) told the White House to “reconsider” the nominations of Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley, both of whom were reported to have endorsed positions or groups that embrace discrimination. The next day, both nominations were pulled.