Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, on Thursday denied that he had threatened two conservative Supreme Court justices at an abortion rally the previous day.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Schumer acknowledged that he should not have said Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh would “pay the price” if they rule in favor of abortion restrictions.
However, he stopped short of apologizing as Republicans have demanded. He instead attributed his “strong language” to being a New Yorker and said he would “never, never” have threatened the justices.
“I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language. I shouldn’t have used the words I did. But in no way was I making a threat. I never, never would do such a thing,” he said.
“You’re going to pay the price … you won’t know what hit you” isn’t a threat, Chuck?
Has someone told him it’s on video yet? https://t.co/F5Q6xo0lMj
— Jason Howerton (@jason_howerton) March 5, 2020
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Earlier in the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, noted that Schumer had clearly threatened the justices, “by name” no less.
“Contrary to what the Democratic leader has tried to claim, he very clearly was not addressing Republican lawmakers or anybody else. He literally directed the statement to the justices, by name,” Schumer said. “And he said, quote, ‘If you go forward with these awful decisions,’ which could only apply to the court itself. The minority leader of the United States Senate threatened two associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Period.”
The backlash that failed to get Schumer to say sorry for threatening Supreme Court justices
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump called for Schumer to face harsh punishment for making a “direct & dangerous threat” against the Supreme Court. Trump suggested the senator should be treated like a Republican would be under the circumstances, which he said would involve jail or removal from office.
“If a Republican did this, he or she would be arrested, or impeached. Serious action MUST be taken NOW!” Trump said on Twitter.
The president was responding to a tweet by Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, who was among the Trump allies to slam Schumer for his remarks.
Jordan’s tweet included a video of Schumer threatening Kavanaugh and Gorsuch during the rally hosted earlier Wednesday by the Center for Reproductive Rights outside the Supreme Court. The senator spoke while the nine-member court heard arguments in a major abortion case from Louisiana.
In his speech, Schumer noted that this was the Supreme Court’s first major abortion case since Trump appointed Kavanaugh in 2018 and Gorsuch in 2017. The crowd jeered when Schumer mentioned the names of the two conservative justices.
Republican-led state legislatures are “waging a war on women,” Schumer said, by passing restrictive abortion laws.
“I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh — 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,” Schumer told the cheering crowd.
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! https://t.co/WqQUbyzaJU
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2020
Other Republicans, SCOTUS chief justice join Trump in slamming Schumer
In a pair of tweets later Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Montana Republican, accused Schumer of implying a threat of violence against the justices, which he called “Disgusting, shameful, and frankly, WEAK.” Hawley said he planned to introduce a motion to censure his colleague on Thursday.
“I would call on Schumer to apologize, but we all know he has no shame,” the first-term Montana senator added. “So tomorrow I will introduce a motion to censure Schumer for his pathetic attempt at intimidation of [the Supreme Court].”
I would call on Schumer to apologize, but we all know he has no shame. So tomorrow I will introduce a motion to censure Schumer for his pathetic attempt at intimidation of #SupremeCourt
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 5, 2020
Even before Trump and Hawley weighed in, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued an unusual rebuke of Schumer for his “threatening statements.”
“Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous,” Roberts said in a statement.
Roberts and Democrats have previously criticized Trump for his negative comments about judges who have ruled against his administration.
Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman responded by email that the senator was referring to the “political price” Republicans will pay for putting Kavanaugh and Gorsuch on the court and “warning that the justices will unleash [a] major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision.”
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Goodman subsequently issued a statement accusing Roberts of bias. He faulted the judge for not having spoken out when Trump went after liberal justices on the court.
“For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when President Trump attacked Justices Sotomayor and Ginsberg last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes,” he said.
Democrats have frequently denounced Trump’s attacks on the U.S. judiciary and individual judges, including the one who presided over the trial of his longtime adviser Roger Stone.
Trump on Feb. 25 called for liberal Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to recuse themselves from any cases involving him or his administration.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)