Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday he regretted the words he used the previous day to blast two Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices, while rejecting accusations that he was making a threat.
Schumer’s comments Wednesday, directed at Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, drew an unusual rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts and criticism from across the political divide. Schumer of New York had said at a rally outside the court that the two justices would “pay the price” if they voted against abortion rights.
On the Senate floor Thursday, Schumer said those words “didn’t come out the way I intended.” He said he had intended to say anti-abortion votes would lead to political consequences.
“I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat,” Schumer said. “I never, never, would do such a thing.”
Schumer’s remarks the day before came as the court heard its first abortion case since President Donald Trump appointed Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh,” Schumer said at the rally, “you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
Later that day, Roberts issued a rare statement calling the comments “dangerous.”
“Justices know that criticism comes with the territory,” Roberts said, “but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the criticism Thursday on the Senate floor.
“The minority leader of the United States Senate threatened two associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, period,” McConnell said. “There’s no other way to interpret that.”
GOP operatives close to the White House nudged Trump Wednesday night to tweet about Schumer’s comments, arguing that judges are one of the few topics never-Trumpers and Trump allies agree upon.
Within minutes, Trump tweeted: “This is a direct & dangerous threat to the U.S. Supreme Court by Schumer. If a Republican did this, he or she would be arrested, or impeached. Serious action MUST be taken NOW!”
On Thursday morning the president added: “Schumer has brought great danger to the steps of the United States Supreme Court!”
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said Schumer shouldn’t have singled out Kavanaugh and Gorsuch.
“I don’t like calling out judges by name,” Kaine told reporters. “If you look at Chuck’s point, he was trying to say, ‘Will there be political consequences from decisions.’ The answer is, ‘Absolutely there will be for those of us in elected office.’ People should call us names, I don’t like calling judges names.”
Balls and strikes
On Wednesday, Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman accused Roberts of following “the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Senator Schumer said.” He added that Roberts was silent when Trump demanded last week that Democratic-appointed Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor recuse themselves from anything “Trump-related.”
That “shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes,” Goodman said. During his 2005 Senate confirmation hearing, Roberts likened judges to baseball umpires.
The Supreme Court is considering a challenge to a Louisiana law requiring abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The statute is similar to a Texas measure the court struck down in 2016, before the two Trump appointees joined the court.
Roberts rarely issues public statements about elected officials. He sparred publicly with Trump after the president criticized an “Obama judge” who had blocked an administration effort to curb asylum claims. Roberts then issued a statement that said, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges.”