The Dallas Morning News outed Republican Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison yesterday for making a rather uncharacteristic decision in one of their U.S. Attorney recommendations.
Robert Pitman, a Western District of Texas U.S. magistrate judge who is gay, was one of two people the GOP senators recommended for the San Antonio-based prosecutor’s post. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group, gave Cornyn and Huthison a 0 percent rating on its report card of the 110th Congress.
It’s unclear whether Hutchison knew what she was getting into by endorsing Pitman. Her spokesperson, Jeff Sadosky, told the newspaper he wasn’t sure if she was aware of his sexual orientation. Cornyn spokesperson Kevin McLaughlin told The Morning News his boss knew Pitman was gay, but said it didn’t figure into the senator’s decision.
“A person’s sexuality has no bearing on his qualifications for a job. … It’s just not even remotely considered,” McLaughlin told the newspaper.
Some Texas social conservatives aren’t too happy about the revelation, which could make life difficult for Hutchison, who is running for Texas governor. Her opponent in the GOP primary in March is Republican Gov. Rick Perry, from the party’s dominant conservative wing.
Texas Home School Coalition president Tim Lambert, who is a Perry supporter, told The Morning News that recommending Pitman was “very unusual and disturbing.” He added: ”I suspect that a lot of Republican primary voters would find it interesting that Senator Hutchison would make that recommendation.”
Pitman, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, is well respected in the Texas legal community, according to the newspaper. A recent bar association poll ranked him as the most capable judge in Travis County, The Morning News said. However, it appears Michael McCrum, a San Antonio-based lawyer at the Thompson & Knight law firm, has the inside track on the job. McCrum was recommended by both the Republican senators and Texas’s House Democrats, making him a consensus choice.
The chairman of the Texas Democratic delegation in Congress, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, has been in a fierce battle with Cornyn for control of the recommendation process. President Barack Obama ultimately makes the nominations.
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Texas’s Republican senators and the state’s House Democrats have submitted separate lists of U.S. Attorney recommendations to the White House, setting the scene for a partisan shootout.
We reported yesterday that Sen. John Cornyn is threatening to block anyone but Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana for the U.S. Attorney post in North Texas. And the Texas House Democrats, led by delegation chairman Rep. Lloyd Doggett, don’t want Saldana. So that’s one showdown.
Then today, we got our hands on this news release issued by Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison that appears to raise the stakes. The Republican senators, not willing to be cut out of the nomination process just because a Democrat now holds the White House, have submitted a complete list of candidates for all four of the state’s U.S. Attorney offices.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Cornyn reaffirmed his intention to block any U.S. Attorney nominee that did not go through his Republican screening committee. ”It’s the president’s prerogative to nominate anybody he wants,” Cornyn said. “But it’s the prerogative of the Senate to decide whether those individuals will be confirmed.”
Here is the list of the GOP recommended candidates, from the Cornyn-Hutchison news release:
-John B. Stevens Jr. (Recommended by Texas senators and Doggett): He is a judge in the Jefferson County Criminal District Court in Texas.
-John Malcolm Bales (Recommended by Texas senators): He is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.
-Sarah Saldana (Recommended by Texas senators): The Assistant U.S. Attorney heads the fraud and public corruption division in the Dallas-based Northern District.
Southern District of Texas:
-Kenneth Magidson (Recommended by Texas senators): The Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Houston-based office heads the organized crime drug enforcement task force for the Southwest region.
Western District of Texas:
-Michael McCrum (Recommended by Texas senators and Doggett): He is a San Antonio-based lawyer at the Thompson & Knight law firm, where he focuses on white collar criminal defense. Read more about him here.
-Robert Pitman (Recommended by Texas senators): He is a U.S. magistrate judge in the Western District of Texas.
In two instances, the candidates picked by the senators were also acceptable to Democrats — and they now appear on their way toward nomination. As we reported Wednesday, they are McCrum in San Antonio and Stevens for the Beaumont-based Eastern district. Doggett issued this news release Wednesday formally recommending McCrum and Stevens.
Doggett said in the news release that he reached agreement with the White House before making those two recommendations on behalf of the Texas Democrats. The negotiation included ”tense consultations” between Doggett and the senators, The Austin American-Statesman reported yesterday. The Obama White House has been reluctant to put names forward that Republican senators don’t support.
It would appear that Doggett has had to retreat somewhat from his tough talk earlier in the year. In an interview with Main Justice in June, he insisted the Democratic delegation would have the final say on recommendations to the White House. But Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, in Doggett’s Austin home base, was the congressman’s first choice for the Western District, the Austin American-Statesman reported. But Escamilla didn’t have the support of the Republican senators and was eliminated.
Texas Democrats support Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore and Dallas civil lawyer Roger Williams for the Northern District. But in the face of apparent opposition from the GOP senators, the Democrats have made no formal announcement.
“We thought Sarah Saldana was the best candidate and that’s why we sent her name to the White House,” Cornyn told reporters yesterday about his Northern District choice. “My hope is that the White House will choose her and make that appointment.”
It’s unclear why the House Democrats snubbed Saldana, whom the Morning News describes as “a candidate with strong Democratic credentials.” She played a key role in a Dallas City Hall corruption trial that some Democrats cast as politically motivated, but Johnson said her involvement was not a factor.
Doggett said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News that the Texas Democratic delegation “never sought confrontation with our senators.”
“I understand they were more comfortable with an inside Republican process, but elections matter,” he said. “Insisting that one and only one person whom they select can be appointed to one of these positions would be a clear abuse of authority.”
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