Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) called for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to take to the Senate floor to recant past comments about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after a man was charged with attempting to assassinate the judge.
“We have a Senate right now that has a majority leader who stood on the steps of the Supreme Court two years ago shrieking like a lunatic threats at Justice Kavanaugh,” Sasse angrily told the Washington Examiner in an interview Wednesday.
Speaking on the eve of a prime-time hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Sasse said political leaders across the aisle have an obligation to renounce political violence, regardless of whether it comes in the form of “a deranged mob chanting ‘Hang [former Vice President] Mike Pence’” or someone seeking to assassinate a justice who may vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You will not know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions,” Schumer said during a 2020 rally at the Supreme Court, naming Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, then the two appointees of former President Donald Trump to the court, as a previous high-profile abortion case was being considered.
Nicholas John Roske of Simi Valley, California, was identified in a criminal complaint charging him with attempted murder Wednesday. Roske allegedly was dressed in black when he arrived by taxi just after 1 a.m. outside Kavanaugh’s home in a Washington suburb.
The 26-year-old had a Glock 17 pistol, ammunition, a knife, zip ties, pepper spray, duct tape, and other items that he told police he would use to break into Kavanaugh’s house and kill him, according to the criminal complaint and affidavit filed in federal court in Maryland. Roske said he purchased the gun for the express purpose of killing Kavanaugh and that he then planned to kill himself. This information appears in an affidavit written by FBI agent Ian Montijo, who also interviewed Roske early Wednesday after he had confessed his Kavanaugh plot to police.
The threat at Kavanaugh’s home comes one day after the Department of Homeland Security issued a “heightened” terrorism advisory ahead of the Supreme Court’s expected reversal of the nation’s landmark abortion rights ruling in the coming Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. Reports on the leaked opinion identified Kavanaugh as part of the majority that would overturn Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Sasse said it was important for Schumer to renounce his past statements in light of Wednesday’s news, saying this hateful climate was stoked by the Democratic leader feeding his base “apocalyptic porn.”
“That is the majority leader of the supposed foremost deliberative body,” Sasse said. “I think that Chuck Schumer has an obligation to denounce this.”
“If he doesn’t have the balls, he has no business being Senate majority leader,” the Nebraska Republican added.
Schumer was criticized when he made the comments initially. “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,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a rare statement publicly rebuking an elected official of Schumer’s stature.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also called Schumer’s words “astonishingly reckless and completely irresponsible” and said they could have “horrific unintended consequences.” McConnell again invoked Schumer’s comments earlier this year as he described the Supreme Court leak as dangerous, saying, “The Democratic leader went over on the steps of the Supreme Court, called a couple of the members out by name, and actually threatened reprisals if they didn’t rule the way he chose.”
The New York Democrat clarified in 2020 that he meant political repercussions rather than physical intimidation, acknowledging he could have chosen his words more carefully. “I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language,” Schumer said. “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. And Leader McConnell knows that, and Republicans who are busy manufacturing outrage over these comments know that too.”
Schumer’s office pointed the Washington Examiner to this contemporaneous statement Wednesday. “He’s been clear that he supports peaceful protests and is thankful law enforcement arrested this person today,” a spokesman said.
The White House also condemned the Kavanaugh threat Wednesday and expressed thanks to law enforcement for arresting Roske amid complaints President Joe Biden’s team did not do enough to discourage potentially dangerous protests outside Supreme Court justices’ private homes.
“As the president has consistently made clear, public officials, including judges, must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety or that of their families,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday. “Any violence or threats of violence or attempts to intimidate justices have no place in our society.”
Other Republicans argued that Democratic rhetoric regarding Kavanaugh and other conservative judges fostered a dangerous climate.
Sasse said fellow Republicans who minimized Jan. 6 were “wrong” and that Democrats should agree that what he described as Schumer’s “lunatic” threats were completely inappropriate.
“I don’t give a damn who’s committing the political violence,” Sasse told the Washington Examiner. “The American idea is to condemn political violence,” regardless of the source.