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Pence casts tie-breaking vote to advance controversial Trump judicial pick

The Hill logo The Hill 11/28/2018 Jordain Carney

Mike Pence wearing a suit and tie: Pence casts tie-breaking vote to advance controversial Trump judicial pick © Anna Moneymaker Pence casts tie-breaking vote to advance controversial Trump judicial pick The Senate advanced a controversial judicial pick for President Trump on Wednesday after Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote for the nomination.

Senators were deadlocked 50-50 to end debate on Thomas Farr's nomination to be a district judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Pence, presiding over the chamber, then cast the tie-breaking vote.

The fate of Farr's nomination was held in suspense even going into the start of the vote on Wednesday afternoon.

Four Republicans were viewed as potential swing votes: Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). But Collins and Rubio came out in support of Farr earlier this week and Murkowski told reporters roughly two hours before the vote that she would also vote "yes" on his nomination.

Scott kept his cards close to his vest, dodging multiple questions on Wednesday ahead of the vote about if he would support Farr.

"By 12:15 I think have to know, so I'll know by then," Scott joked to reporters, referring to the Senate's two votes that were scheduled to start at 12:15 p.m.

Scott, the only African-American Republican senator, was considered a vote to watch after he opposed Ryan Bounds's circuit court nomination earlier this year, leading to the Trump administration withdrawing him.

The vote Wednesday on Farr's nomination was held open for several minutes, stuck at 49-50, as senators waited to see how Scott would vote.

It's unclear if Scott's decision to support Farr's nomination on Wednesday's procedural hurdle means he will also support him for final confirmation on Thursday. He previously supported Rounds's nomination on cloture only to warn he could not support him on final passage.

With Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) voting against all judicial nominations until he gets a vote on legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller, Farr could not afford to lose an additional GOP senator and still have the votes to let Pence break a tie.

Farr's nomination has gotten national attention as Democrats have urged a Republican senator to join them in opposition.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called it an "absolute disgrace" that McConnell had brought the nomination to the Senate floor.

"What a further disgrace it would be if our Republican colleagues march in lockstep," Schumer said before the vote.

But Democrats nixed the 60-vote filibuster for lower court nominations in 2013, meaning they can't block a Trump court pick without help from Republicans.

Farr's nomination has drawn intense opposition from Democrats and their outside group allies, who warn that, if confirmed, he'll use his position as a federal judge to rule against minorities.

Part of their opposition dates back to the 1990s, when Farr defended Jesse Helms's campaign after the Justice Department investigated it for mailing postcards to more than 120,000 North Carolinians, most of whom were black voters, suggesting they were ineligible to vote and could be prosecuted for voter fraud.

Farr - in response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee - said he did was not involved in the crafting of the postcards.

"I was not aware that the cards had been sent until they had been sent and the manager of the Helms Committee received a letter about the cards from the Voting Rights Section of the United States Department of Justice. The manager of the Helms Committee then called me for legal advice," he added in his written responses to questions from the Judiciary Committee.

Farr was also part of a group of lawyers hired to defend congressional and legislative boundaries approved by the North Carolina legislature, some of which were later struck down in federal court.

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