MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Senate's lone African-American Republican, Tim Scott, says he will vote to block one of President Trump's picks for the federal bench. Democrats and activists say Thomas Farr was engaged in voter suppression of African-Americans. They have aggressively opposed his nomination to be a district judge in North Carolina. Scott's opposition is a blow to Republicans who have made it a priority to approve Trump's judicial nominees.
NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is following all this from Capitol Hill. And, Kelsey, is it this issue of alleged voter suppression that is informing Senator Scott's opposition?
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: It certainly appears that way. And Scott says that it is the thing that has been driving him. So for some context, Farr has been accused by opponents of working to undermine voting rights for African-American citizens. The issue Scott cites specifically goes back to Farr's work on multiple campaigns for former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. Helms, a Republican, was accused of using a program called ballot security to intimidate black voters.
Scott - he said he made up his mind after reviewing a 1991 Department of Justice memo that detailed Farr's work on that program. Scott also told reporters yesterday that he was reviewing that very memo in the middle of a procedural vote on the nomination for Farr. And, you know, this isn't the only time Farr has been accused of working to suppress African-American votes. His opponents also point to a law far back that the courts have called the most aggressive - I'm sorry - most restrictive voting law in - North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.
KELLY: Well, now, what does this mean for Farr's nomination? Is there any way his nomination can advance now that Senator Scott is saying he's going to vote no?
SNELL: Well, it effectively ends the nomination for this year. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake told reporters today that he has serious concerns about Farr, and he would vote against a final confirmation, meaning that there wouldn't be enough Republican votes even if Vice President Pence tried to come in and break a tie.
SNELL: Yeah. What's really interesting here about Flake is that he is already voting against President Trump's nominees as a kind of protest. So he has been trying to force Republican leaders to allow a vote on a bill to protect special counsel - sorry - special counsel Rob Mueller. And so he was already going to vote against the Farr nomination. He's saying now, though, he has many reasons to oppose Farr.
KELLY: OK. So even though the Mueller nomination is unrelated, this is Flake...
SNELL: Yeah, so...
KELLY: ...Using leverage to try to...
SNELL: That's one of those...
SNELL: ...Crazy things about Congress. Things kind of blend together, though Trump could renominate Farr next year when there will be more Republicans in the Senate.
KELLY: Although he may still not get a vote in his favor from Senator Scott because Scott, again, also a Republican, has opposed his - one of his nominees before.
SNELL: Oh, yeah. And earlier this summer, Scott told Senate Republicans that he would oppose another nominee, Ryan Bounds, who's up for a circuit court position. But that nomination was withdrawn before Scott could ever wind up voting against him. Now, he's said for days that he was undecided about Farr in particular, so there were people who thought that maybe Scott was gettable. But this is a pretty significant blow for Trump, and there are many, many more nominees to come. So it's possible that they could rebound from this, and Republicans could still continue down their path of approving many, many judges.
KELLY: Kelsey Snell reporting from Capitol Hill, thank you.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.