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Senate Dem reservations emerge on judicial nominee as White House fights criticism

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Senate Democratic leaders and the White House have a ton of work to do to confirm a historic judicial nominee. They aren’t giving up just yet as they face hurdles in their own caucus.

In interviews on Tuesday, several Senate Democrats expressed reservations with the nomination of Adeel Mangi for a seat on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. President Joe Biden and senior Democrats are standing behind Mangi amid attacks from Republicans that critics knock as Islamophobic, though it’s plainly clear they don’t yet have the votes.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he’s getting questions about Mangi from his Democratic colleagues.

“He’s an excellent nominee,” the Illinois Democrat and Senate majority whip said in an interview. “I know a lot of the other information that’s been generated on the other side is distorted and unfair. So, he’s not without controversy, but I think he’s an extraordinary individual.”

It’s a rare judicial snag for the Senate Democratic majority and Biden, who have generally worked seamlessly on judges — with a few exceptions. And Mangi’s nomination is historic: He would be the first Muslim appeals court judge if confirmed.

Republicans do not appear willing to provide any votes for Mangi at the moment, with many criticizing him for his role as an adviser to the director of Rutgers University’s Center for Security, Race and Rights, which GOP critics said brought antisemitic speakers to campus. Mangi denied knowledge of the speakers amid Republican questioning.

Without GOP support, Mangi needs 50 of the 51 Senate Democratic-caucusing members to support him, a tough task in an election year in which Democratic incumbents are defending seats in purple and red states. Three Democrats — Jon Tester (Mont.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) — declined to say they’d back the pick in interviews Tuesday. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another swing vote on judicial picks, said he was not aware of Mangi.

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said Biden is proud to have nominated Mangi for the post and urged Senate Democrats to ignore “a malicious and debunked smear campaign” against his nomination.

“Every Senate Democrat should side with the qualities that make America exceptional — which Mr. Mangi embodies — not the hateful forces trying to force America into the past,” he told POLITICO in a statement.

Still, it’s going to take a serious whipping effort.

“I do” have concerns, Cortez Masto said, denying she agreed with attacks advanced by Republicans. “My concern is with respect to the organization that supports individuals who kill police officers.”

That organization appears to be the Alliance of Families for Justice, on whose board Mangi sits and which describes its mission as to “support, empower and mobilize families and individuals impacted by the criminal justice system.”

Tester said “we’re still taking input and I have not developed a position yet,” while Baldwin said in an interview that “I thoroughly look at every nominee who comes before the Senate — and I will be doing the same with him.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the chief deputy whip, said because floor action is not imminent the whip team hasn’t fully ascertained whether Mangi can be confirmed. But he also said it’s too early to declare the nomination finished.

Biden formally nominated Mangi in November 2023 to sit on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced his nomination in January on a party-line 11-10 vote. It’s also possible the Senate could move to confirm him after the election. CNN reported last week that the White House is aware of the challenges in confirming Mangi.

One former Republican judicial appointee, Timothy Lewis, urged “the Senate to treat Mr. Mangi with the same respect that I received in 1992” when the chamber confirmed him to an appeals court post as “one of only two Black judges to be nominated to a federal appellate court by President Bush.” The American Bar Association rates Mangi, a veteran New York-based litigator, as “well qualified” for the federal bench.

A number of outside groups, including the AFL-CIO, the Anti-Defamation League, a coalition of Jewish groups and the National Organization of Black Women in Law Enforcement, and the White House have vigorously defended Mangi’s nomination in recent days, slamming GOP senators’ questioning over the Israel-Hamas war and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as “Islamophobic.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), one of the leading Mangi backers, said he spoke out in a recent Democratic caucus meeting about the selection and a concerted dark money push to tank his nomination. The Judicial Crisis Network is running ads urging Tester and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), both incumbents, to vote against Mangi and called the nominee an “antisemite.”

“I’m concerned about the outrageous attacks that are happening to him that have nothing to do with fact,” Booker said in an interview, likening the volley of criticism to “slander” against the nominee.