Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday disputed the characterization that he voted against a Trump judicial nominee earlier this week solely because of his race.
The Senate voted 69-28 on Thursday to confirm Marvin Quattlebaum, who is white, as a US district judge for South Carolina.
In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday, Schumer slammed Republicans' decision to block two African-American nominees under then-President Barack Obama for the same vacancy so they could fill the seat with a Republican-backed nominee as making "no sense, and compounding the injury was the lack of diversity ... of the appointees."
"This seat has been vacant for a long time," Schumer said Friday. "The two people nominated were African Americans, and I said now this new fellow is white, and we need the bench to have real diversity."
The New York Democrat argued that the "bench should look like America. I think most Americans agree with that."
On Wednesday, Schumer had argued in the Senate that Quattlebaum was only up for nomination because South Carolina Republicans Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott "refused to return a blue slip," a procedural motion that, without it, derailed two Obama nominees for the same vacancy that were African American. The blue slip practice allows senators from the nominee's home state to either approve or block a president's pick for consideration by the chamber.
Schumer said before Thursday's vote that he's opposed to Quattlebaum's nomination because it "speaks to the overall lack diversity in President Trump's selections for the federal judiciary," which drew rebuke from his Republican colleagues.
"After years of improvement, the Trump administration, like in so many other areas, is taking a giant step backward, this time when it comes to diversity of their nominations," Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor. "I'll be voting no on the Quattlebaum nomination."
Graham, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter that Schumer is "not a racist, but this was an absolutely shameful reason to vote against a very qualified nominee like Marvin Quattlebaum."
"I judge nominees on the content of their character, not the color of their skin," Graham said Thursday. "Chuck Schumer should do the same."
"Perhaps Senate Democrats should be more worried about the lack of diversity on their own staffs than attacking an extremely well-qualified judicial nominee from the great state of South Carolina," tweeted Scott, who is the sole Black Republican in the chamber.
When asked if his "no" vote Thursday against Quattlebaum was payback for blocking Obama's African American nominees, Schumer told Blitzer on Friday, "Absolutely not."
"It was saying that I thought this nominee was not very a good nominee to begin with, but second it's really wrong to hold the seat vacant for four years, then change the rules, and then say we're going to fill the bench just with people we want," Schumer said. "There ought to be some compromise here."