Neomi Rao, Kavanaugh replacement pick for appeals court, clears Senate committee

February 28, 2019 GMT

The Judiciary Committee on Thursday gave first approval to Neomi Rao, the pick to fill Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s empty seat on the federal circuit appeals court in Washington, sending her to the full Senate for confirmation.

Ms. Rao, an official with the White House Office of Management and Budget, cleared on a 12-10 party-line vote, with Democrats opposing her because they objected to her views on executive power and her work cutting regulations in the Trump administration.

But winning support of all Republicans on the committee was a fear for Ms. Rao, who had to convince at least two reluctant GOP senators.


Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, who recently revealed she was sexually assaulted in college, found some of Ms. Rao’s college writings troubling concerning date rape.

Ms. Rao suggested women bear some responsibility when consuming alcohol. She has since apologized for her writings in a letter to the committee, saying a rapist is clearly responsible for sexual assault.

Ms. Ernst said the apology helped win over her support but said she would hesitate to support Ms. Rao if she were to be nominated for a Supreme Court seat in the future.

Democrats shared Ms. Ernst’s concerns over Ms. Rao’s sexual assault comments and said they see evidence her views haven’t changed. They pointed to her time in the Trump budget office, where they said she implemented regulations that would allow people accused of sexual assault on college campuses to face their accusers. Democrats said they feared that would scare some victims from reporting crimes.

Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, also raised concerns about Ms. Rao’s judicial philosophy, wondering whether she was pro-life.

He met with her earlier this week and said his concerns were eased. But he chastised conservative activist groups who blasted him for the increased scrutiny of Mr. Trump’s pick.

“The people of Missouri sent me here to represent their values,” he said. “That’s exactly what I am going to do.”