President Donald Trump’s two Supreme Court picks, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, may be his highest-profile judicial nominations, but they are just two of the 157 men and women who have reshaped the federal judiciary.
“One out of every 4 active judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals have been appointed by President Trump,” says Adam Kennedy, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of communications at the White House, in an interview with The Daily Signal. “And the average age is actually a full 10 years younger for these justices than under President [Barack] Obama.”
Trump celebrated his administration’s judicial appointments at a White House ceremony Wednesday. He gathered with U.S. senators and other supporters to mark the occasion. Kennedy spoke to The Daily Signal about Trump’s success and also provided an update on impeachment. Read the lightly edited transcript of the interview below, or listen on the podcast.
Rob Bluey: We’re joined on The Daily Signal Podcast by Adam Kennedy, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of communications at the White House. Adam, thanks for taking the time to do the interview.
Adam Kennedy: Thanks so much for having me on.
Bluey: We’re going to get to impeachment in just a few moments, but first, Adam, I want to ask you about some news that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.
Since President Trump took office, this administration has worked with Congress to confirm 157 federal judges. Again, that’s 157 federal judges. It includes 43 judges to federal circuit courts and two new justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. Can you tell us why this is a priority for President Trump?
Kennedy: I think what we’re doing really is reshaping the courts of this country that have long been dominated by Democratic appointees.
Right now … 1 out of every 4 active judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals have been appointed by President Trump. And the average age is actually a full 10 years younger for these justices than under President [Barack] Obama. So I think what the president is doing is putting a lasting stamp on the courts that are going to go well past his second term.
Bluey: The Heritage Foundation has a Judicial Appointment Tracker. It puts President Trump ahead of every president since Ronald Reagan at this point in their presidencies, including 54 more confirmations than President Obama had at this time. How has President Trump been able to accomplish this?
Kennedy: Well, we’ve been pushing really hard and working hand-in-hand with the Senate to make sure that we have qualified judges on these courts, judges who are going to interpret the Constitution as written. And to make sure that they move at a quick pace, and that we have the most qualified people capable to sit on the benches. And then we’re seeing the results.
We’ve actually already flipped two different courts. The [2nd] Circuit and the 11th have already flipped over because of this. … And we’re going to continue to make progress.
Bluey: Last week, the American Bar Association came under fire for its rating of Lawrence VanDyke, who is a nominee for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The nominee was actually moved to tears during his Senate confirmation hearing. …
Now for years, we’ve heard about the 9th Circuit being out of touch. Today, President Trump is close to having 13 judges confirmed for that circuit. How is that going to transform the judiciary?
Kennedy: Those are actually some of the most important judges because only a few cases actually get picked up by the Supreme Court. The appellate level, the circuit level, those are where a lot of the cases are heard and where a lot of the lasting decisions are made, and where a lot of precedent is made.
So by making progress there, the president’s really putting a lasting imprint on how the Constitution will be interpreted going forward, and it’s going to be interpreted as it was written.
Bluey: Of course, these confirmations have happened despite obstruction from Senate Democrats. President Trump’s nominees have faced more cloture votes, more roll call votes, and greater opposition than any of his predecessors. Tom Jipping of The Heritage Foundation says Trump nominees have faced 18 times the amount of opposition as the judges appointed by his five predecessors at this point. What does that say to you?
Kennedy: I think it’s pretty obvious that Democrats are trying to score political points, and they’re trying to hold up the process as much as possible. They failed repeatedly, and we’re going to continue to push forward. But obviously, this isn’t just about qualifications. This is about the fact that they see the president making so much progress and they want to get in the way.
Bluey: You’ve had a couple of rulings go your way, particularly at the Supreme Court level, I think of when it comes to those who are coming into this country and also, you have some big immigration decisions that have gone your way. How important is it to maintaining the policies that this White House supports and have been carried out through executive actions to have these judges in place?
Kennedy: Absolutely. What we’ve seen is that the actions that this president has taken have been entirely based in law, based in the Constitution, based on the power that is given to the president. And more and more, we need judges to uphold that and to see that the Constitution as written has … granted to the president these powers. And by having these judges there, we’re getting the results that we’ve been arguing for.
Bluey: Finally on this topic, Adam, let me ask you, because we obviously all saw what happened to Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh and we see it to a lesser extent with some of the appellate court nominees and even district court nominees, what is President Trump’s message to these judges who want to serve their country and do their civic duty of giving back in this way?
Kennedy: To stand strong, to stand by their principles and their beliefs, and to not let the Democrats try and tear them down. I think what we’ve seen is that time and time again, the Democrats have tried and failed to take shots at our well-qualified nominees. And time and time again, we’ve stood by them, we’ve stood with them through this process.
Bluey: OK, Adam, thanks for bringing us up to speed on the judiciary. I’d like to shift gears to impeachment. What’s your reaction to some of the latest developments coming out of Capitol Hill today and earlier this week?
Kennedy: I think it’s pretty clear now why they kept some of these secrets for so long, and it’s because there’s really not a whole lot there that’s supportive of the Democratic case.
Just yesterday we saw a transcript from [Gordon] Sondland released, who is our ambassador to the EU. He clearly states that he does not know why or by whom the aid to Ukraine was held up. And so the idea that he could have knowledge of some quid pro quo but not know why the aid was held up seems a little preposterous.
At the same time, you have [Kurt] Volker, who is our actual ambassador on the ground, say that there absolutely was no quid pro quo at any level. So I think it’s pretty clear at this point that the Democratic case, whatever it was to begin with, is quickly falling apart.
Bluey: How is this administration preparing to fight the attacks being mounted by [House Intelligence] Chairman Adam Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi?
Kennedy: I think we’re going to fight it every step of the way. We’re going to point out where the process is wrong, how poorly it’s been handled.
This is a process that was started with a podium announcement. I mean, really the first time in history that Congress, really the Democrats in Congress, decided to use their exceptional power to try and impeach a president by holding a press conference, not holding a vote.
[They] then went right into secret hearings where no due process was provided. They had a sham vote where the only bipartisan part of it was bipartisan opposition to it. And now we’re seeing with these transcripts that there is even less there than they were originally saying.
The president’s been saying this whole time, they did nothing wrong. He released the transcripts showing he did nothing wrong. Yet, Democrats are pushing this because they want to overturn 2016 and now try to interfere in 2020.
Bluey: You have a House speaker who has talked about the importance of it being a bipartisan effort, and, of course, as you referenced, the vote was hardly such. It was two Democrats voting with Republicans against starting the impeachment inquiry. What did it mean to this president to have that unified support among Republicans?
Kennedy: I think it’s fantastic and I think the fact that Nancy Pelosi couldn’t even keep her party together on this shows how weak their case is.
And Nancy Pelosi repeatedly said she wanted it to be a bipartisan effort if she was going to go forward. She went forward anyways, and it was a bipartisan effort against it. So I really think Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff have to take stock of where they’re at right now.
Bluey: As the Democrats focus on impeachment, there’s still much work to be done. Government funding runs out on Nov. 21. … As the Democrats focus on impeachment, there’s still much work to be done in Congress. You have some pieces of legislation, including a government funding bill that needs to be done by Nov. 21. What are the prospects for getting this and other things done during an impeachment inquiry?
Kennedy: We want to work with the Democrats to pass these important measures. And there’s other ones as well. There’s securing our border, there’s lower[ing] drug prices, there’s USMCA [the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement].
But time and time again, what we’ve seen the Democrats really interested in is try[ing] to win an impeachment [because] they weren’t able to win through an election, and that’s getting this president out of office.
This president will continue to try and work with them. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the Democrats if they’re willing to put this politics aside and actually get things done for the American people.
Bluey: You brought up USMCA. We recently heard from Vice President Mike Pence here at The Heritage Foundation about the importance of moving that forward. It seems that there would be the Democrats in favor of it to get this across the finish line. What are the prospects of having something like that come up for a vote here before the end of the year?
Kennedy: We’re hopeful. We want Pelosi to take action on it. We’ve been asking for it for quite some time. We’ve seen our main trading partners, Mexico and Canada, take more action than the Democrats in Congress have been willing to. And we’ll continue to push them to make sure this gets passed.
Bluey: Well, Adam, the recent events on Capitol Hill don’t seem to be slowing down President Trump, who was on the road again this week in Kentucky. As someone who has worked at the White House from the start of his administration, how is he handling these things and what are his prospects for what the future holds?
Kennedy: I think he’s incredibly happy with his accomplishments. There’s still a lot more to get done and we’ll continue to push forward. But I think, of course, it’s frustrating when Democrats continually try to stand in the way, continually try to divert intention to impeachment. This president’s not going to be distracted, though, he’s going to continue to push forward and make sure he gets done for the American people what he promised.
Bluey: This week we saw the tragic news coming out of Mexico about the cartel killing of a Mormon family. President Trump, of course, has talked about immigration throughout his presidency. What is his latest message as news of this surfaces?
Kennedy: The president has been talking about it and warning about the dangers of cartels since his first campaign. He’s continued to throughout his presidency [on this]. He wants to work with Mexico and he wants to work with other partners to make sure we take a strong stance.
What happened was a tragedy, an absolute tragedy, as the president said. He reached out to the president of Mexico and will continue to offer assistance and support however necessary.
Bluey: Well, Adam, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with The Daily Signal today. We appreciate your giving us an update on these important topics. We look forward to talking to you again soon.
Kennedy: Thanks so much for having me on. I appreciate it.