State Politics

SC’s Tim Scott still opposes Thomas Farr, has sharp words for conservative critics

Eleanor Holmes Norton says Senate must not confirm Thomas Farr

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the Congressional Black Caucus has been fair to President Trump, but his record of nominations is poor. Norton said Farr must not be confirmed on Thursday, January 18, 2018.
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Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the Congressional Black Caucus has been fair to President Trump, but his record of nominations is poor. Norton said Farr must not be confirmed on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott has a message for the conservatives excoriating him for opposing Thomas Farr’s confirmation as a federal judge: They ought not challenge the conclusion of the Senate’s only black Republican that the one-time nominee has a troubling record on race.

Scott, R-S.C., is doubling down in his opposition to Farr over concerns about the Raleigh, N.C., lawyer’s history on race relations. He said his worries were not alleviated by a Wednesday meeting between the two men on Capitol Hill — convened as a courtesy to North Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Farr ally.

The meeting coincided with a letter that 31 conservative leaders, activists, elected officials and attorneys sent to Scott Tuesday in Farr’s defense. In the three-page memo, they urged Scott to reconsider his position, arguing a smear campaign was launched by “unprincipled left-wing activists who hate Tom” and suggesting Scott was complicit in the partisan attack.

“In these difficult days, when allegations of racism are carelessly, and all too often deliberately, thrown about without foundation, the result is not racial healing, but greater racial polarization,” they wrote. “Joining with those who taunt every political opponent a ‘racist’ as a partisan political tactic to destroy their reputations is not helpful to the cause of reconciliation.”

Scott fired back.

“For some reason the authors of this letter choose to ignore ... facts, and instead implicate that I have been co-opted by the left and am incapable of my own decision making,” Scott said in a statement to McClatchy, adding he votes for Republican judicial nominees “99 percent of the time.”

“Why they have chosen to expend so much energy on this particular nomination I do not know, but what I do know is they have not spent anywhere near as much time on true racial reconciliation efforts, decrying comments by those like (Republican U.S. Rep.) Steve King, or working to move our party together towards a stronger, more unified future,” Scott continued, referring to the Iowa congressman who recently suggested he was sympathetic to white supremacists in a New York Times interview.

Last last year, Scott was the deciding vote in sinking Farr’s chances of being confirmed. The Charleston Republican said he was unable to ignore concerns that Farr may have been involved in a racially motivated voter-suppression strategy during the 1990 reelection campaign of the late-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Farr held a senior staff position with the campaign.

In his statement Wednesday, Scott said, contrary to the suggestion in Tuesday’s letter that he never had met with Farr or done the necessary research into his background, “I have met with him multiple times over the past 18 months, both in person and via phone.”

Ultimately, Scott said, a Justice Department memo from the George H. W. Bush administration “raise(d) serious questions about the level of involvement Mr. Farr had in the Helms campaign.”

Co-signers of the letter to Scott included his predecessor, former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

Other signers included former Attorney General Edwin Meese, the presidents of major conservative activist groups, an assistant attorney general for civil rights in the administration of President George W. Bush and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas.

Those signing also included heavyweights in North Carolina Republican politics: N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, N.C. Republican Party chairman Robin Hayes and former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer, who described himself as a “friend of Tom Farr since 1981.”

Following Scott’s announcement he would oppose Farr just days before the Senate was set to vote last fall, Senate GOP leaders moved onto other business, allowing Farr’s nomination to remain in limbo until the close of the 115th Congress.

With the start of the new Congress, President Donald Trump can choose to re-nominate Farr, and the White House has not ruled out the possibility. As of late last week, Tillis said he still was looking into whether Farr had a path to confirmation in the Senate.

New Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham — like Scott, a S.C. Republican — recently met with White House officials to discuss whether to re-nominate judicial nominees stalled in the previous Congress, including Farr. Graham said he was open to moving Farr through his committee but would have to first discuss the matter with Scott, Tillis and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

Graham also has said he thought Farr was treated unfairly by his critics.

“I don’t think he had a fraught record on race. I think the mail-out was disgusting in 1990, and (Farr) had nothing to do with it,” Graham said.

If Farr is re-nominated, it would be a rebuke to Scott. Republicans also would be proceeding at their own peril.

Scott has been speaking lately with increasing urgency about the need for Republicans to get smarter on racial issues, calling out members of his own party without holding back.

He said last year Republicans could avoid accusations of racial insensitivity by simply nominating judges with clearer records. “There are a lot of of folks that can be judges, in states including North Carolina, besides Tom Farr.”

After Rep. King’s comments on white supremacy, Scott wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Post titled, “Why are Republicans accused of racism? Because we’re silent on things like this.”

Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she reports on the South Carolina congressional delegation for The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.


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