While we are not surprised at John N. Kennedy's power to embarrass the unprepared in government hearings, given his performances in the State Capitol, the new U.S. senator from Louisiana has made a lot of people in Washington sit up and take notice — including President Donald Trump.
According to Kennedy, the president spoke to him personally about the embarrassment of Matthew Petersen, a Trump nominee for U.S. District Court judge.
When Petersen came before the Senate's Judiciary Committee, he had likely been drilled for questions from Democratic senators. Instead, the Republican Kennedy grilled him about his utter lack of trial experience and apparent ignorance of legal processes.
Tweeted by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., the Kennedy performance got more than 80,000 retweets and 136,000 likes.
What was there to do but retreat with what little dignity was left to the hapless Petersen? In a withdrawal letter, Petersen cited his experience on the Federal Election Commission and as a chief counsel to a Senate committee, as well as the American Bar Association ranking him unanimously as qualified.
“I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” Petersen wrote to the president. “However, I am no stranger to political realities, and I do not wish to be a continued distraction from the important work of your administration and the Senate.”
Only a few Trump nominees have been tripped up in the confirmation process, but as Kennedy has loudly complained, one wonders if the president is getting good advice on some of the candidates. Last week, Brett Talley, a nominee to be a district judge in Alabama, offered to withdraw his nomination; he had not disclosed that his wife works in the White House, and he received a unanimous “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.
What is clear is that Kennedy is going to exercise his capacity to embarrass some of the political stinkers, those with little or no trial experience nominated to the district court where federal trials take place. Still, he is a loyal Trump supporter. He voted with other Republicans to seat an 8th Circuit judge even after the ABA declared the nominee not qualified for the post. That was a 50-48 party line vote.
But that nomination did not awaken social media.
The president — according to Kennedy — said he had not interviewed Petersen personally and relied on his staff. All presidents do, but the staff did not nominate Petersen; the president did. It's an unattractive trait to blame others for mistakes.
This episode is probably not going to be the last time that Kennedy causes trouble. It's a capacity we've observed for many years in the State Capitol.