Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday he regrets comments he made Wednesday saying two conservative Supreme Court justices would "pay a price" if they voted to uphold limits on abortion rights.
“I should not have used the words I used yesterday,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday morning, referring to comments he made at an abortion rights rally Wednesday on the Supreme Court steps, singling out Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh by name as they were hearing oral arguments in the first abortion-related case they have considered since joining the court.
"My point was that there would be political consequences, political consequences, for President Trump and Senate Republicans if the Supreme Court, with the newly confirmed justices, stripped away a women's right to choose. Of course I didn't intend to suggest anything other than political and public opinion consequences for the Supreme Court, and it is a gross distortion to imply otherwise," he said.
"I'm from Brooklyn," Schumer added. "We speak in strong language, I shouldn't have use the words i did, but in no way was i making a threat. I would never do such a thing."
Schumer spoke shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lambasted him in remarks on the Senate floor, calling his comments a "shameless effort to bully the national judiciary."
"At the very best, his comments were astonishingly - astonishingly reckless and completely irresponsible," McConnell said. "Because no matter the intention, words carrying the apparent threat of violence can have horrific, unintended consequences."
McConnell called on Schumer to withdraw his statements and apologize.
"The distinguished men and women should not and must not serve at the pleasure of angry partisans," McConnell said. "They do not need to pay any mind to unhinged threats as shameful as they may be," he said.
"Republicans are absolutely and unshakably committed to the core constitutional principle of an independent federal judiciary," McConnell said. "As long as this majority holds the gavel, we will never let the minority leader’s dangerous views become policy."
Earlier, Sen. Chuck Grassley also criticized Schumer’s comments, saying that at best it was, “an injection of partisan process,” but at worst a threat to Supreme Court justices.
President Donald Trump also weighed in on Schumer’s comments, tweeting Wednesday night that Schumer’s statements were “direct” and “dangerous” and called for action.
“This is a direct & dangerous threat to the U.S. Supreme Court by Schumer,” President Donald Trump said in a tweet. “If a Republican did this, he or she would be arrested, or impeached. Serious action MUST be taken NOW!”
In an appearance on Sean Hannity's program on Fox News Wednesday night, Trump called Schumer’s statements a “disgrace to the Supreme Court and to the U.S. Senate.”
“I was amazed by it, and if that were a Republican, you would see really bad things happening,” he said. “It's very unequal justice and it's a disgrace that he was able to say something like that.”
Some Democratic legal scholars spoke out against Schumer’s comments as well. Legal scholar Laurence Tribe tweeted that Schumer’s comments were “inexcusable.”
“I hope the Senator, whom I’ve long admired and consider a friend, apologizes and takes back his implicit threat,” Tribe said in a tweet Wednesday. “It’s beneath him and his office.”
Of the many Republican lawmakers who have spoken out against his comments, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley said Wednesday that he would introduce a motion to censure Schumer.
Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a rare public rebuke of a sitting member of Congress on Wednesday, accusing Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of making "dangerous" threats against two justices by name.
The comments were delivered before a raucous crowd of several hundred abortion rights activists who had assembled at the steps of the high court as the justices heard oral arguments over a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinic.
The case marks the first time Gorsuch and Kavanaugh will weigh in on the issue of abortion since being confirmed.
"We know what's at stake. Over the last three years, women's reproductive rights have come under attack in a way we haven't seen in modern history," Schumer shouted as the crowd roared. "We will tell President Trump and Senate Republicans who have stacked the court with right-wing ideologues that you're going to be gone in November, and you will never be able to do what you're trying to do now ever, ever again."
Several hours later, after Schumer's comments ricocheted across social media, Roberts issued a statement through a court spokeswoman.
"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 the statement. "All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter."
Roberts has said he feels an obligation to defend members of the federal judiciary who typically cannot defend themselves from intense public criticism in order to remain impartial; but he has also deliberately sought to avoid the spotlight and public statements that might politicize the court.
In 2018, Roberts issued an extraordinary direct response to Trump's criticism of federal judges, but did not mention the president by name.
Roberts did not respond last month when Trump, for the first time in the White House, directly attacked Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, accusing them of bias.
Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said the Democratic leader's comments were "a reference to the political price Senate Republicans will pay for putting these justices on the court, and a warning that the justices will unleash a major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision."
He accused conservatives of "deliberate misinterpretation" of Schumer's remarks.
"To me this sounds like he's talking about a physical price, violence," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in an emotional statement from the Senate floor. "These are members of the Supreme Court -- he the minority leader of the United States. ... I believe these statements are outrageous. They're uncalled for. They're out of bounds. And on their face, they appear to invite violence against members of the Supreme Court."