Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Friday that he did not vote against confirming federal judicial nominee Marvin Quattlebaum this week because he is white, pushing back against reports that he based his vote on Quattlebaum's race.
Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday that the nomination of Quattlebaum "speaks to the overall lack of diversity" of President Donald Trump's nominees because he is a white male. On CNN on Friday, Schumer blamed "right-wing radio" for "distorting his words," and he explained his comments about Quattlebaum, who the Senate confirmed to the U.S. District Court in South Carolina by a vote of 69-29.
"What I said is this: that Barack Obama had nominated, I think as early as 2013, two people for this seat, and our Republican senators from South Carolina blocked them with the withholding of the blue slip, which has been a tradition," Schumer said, referring to South Carolina Sens. Tim Scott (R.) and Lindsey Graham (R.) opposing the confirmation of Alison Lee and Don Beatty in 2013.
"So this seat has been vacant for a long time, the two people nominated were African-Americans, and I said, ‘Now this fellow is white, and we need the bench to have real diversity,'" Schumer told CNN host Wolf Blitzer.
"The president's record in nominating people of color, even nominating women to the bench—I think the bench should look like America, and I think most Americans agree with that," Schumer added. "And the fact they held up two people for so long and now wanted to get their fellow to come in made no sense, and compounding the injury was the lack of diversity on the bench."
Blitzer then asked if Schumer's vote was "payback," since the senator justified his comments about Quattlebaum's race by arguing Republicans were unfair toward prior nominees.
"Absolutely not," Schumer replied. "It was saying I thought this nominee was not a very good nominee to begin with, but second, it's really wrong to hold a seat vacant for four years, then change the rules, and then say we're going to fill the bench just with people we want."
"There ought to be some compromise here," he concluded.
Schumer said Wednesday that the number of white men Trump has nominated endangers "the equal administration of justice."
"As of February 14th, 83 percent of President Trump's confirmed nominees were male, 92 percent were white. That represents the lowest share of non-white candidates in three decades," Schumer said. "It's long past time that the judiciary starts looking a lot more like the America it represents. Having a diversity of views and experience on the federal bench is necessary for the equal administration of justice."
Both Scott and Graham criticized Schumer's comments from Wednesday.
Perhaps Senate Democrats should be more worried about the lack of diversity on their own staffs than attacking an extremely well-qualified judicial nominee from the great state of South Carolina. https://t.co/unrR7Cz7Mp
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) March 1, 2018
I judge nominees on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
Chuck Schumer should do the same. https://t.co/WM0U2NILQz
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) March 1, 2018
Quattlebaum is a lawyer who is a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Greenville, South Carolina.