WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is holding up the confirmations of two African-American judicial candidates, drawing fire from the Congressional Black Caucus, which held a news conference Wednesday blaming him for "negligence and obstruction."
"We would like our senator to step up to the plate and put away whatever games he is playing," said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville.
But Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson isn't pressing forward on one of the candidates, William L. Thomas, either. He is awaiting the outcome of a background check by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The nominees are Brian Davis, for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District, whom Rubio introduced at his confirmation hearing, and Thomas, for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge who is openly gay.
Both made it through Florida's Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, a panel that makes recommendations to the state's senators. The senators, who met with the candidates, sent letters to the White House supporting them. President Barack Obama then nominated the men.
Rubio now says he shares concerns about Davis that were raised last year by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Grassley questioned statements Davis made in the mid 1990s, including suggesting Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign as U.S. surgeon general because she is black.
Davis said he made the comments in a speech about race, but acknowledged they were inappropriate for a judge.
"Those questions need to be resolved," Rubio said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
But in May 2012, Rubio glowed about Davis and another nominee during a Senate Judiciary Hearing. "One of the pleasant surprises of this job is the quality of individuals who offer themselves for public service, and the quality of individuals who we've been able to forward to the president, to the White House, today being no exception," he said.
As for Thomas, Rubio is concerned about his involvement in a controversial case in which a man was given a sentence of just 364 days in jail for the hit-and-run death of a cyclist.
Meantime, Florida House members are in the dark.
"We have no idea," Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, said in an interview. "When there's just absolute silence, you can't think of anything but political gamesmanship."
The complaints from the Congressional Black Caucus are broader than Florida. In a statement, the group said, "Currently, 30 percent of judicial nominees pending confirmation in the Senate are African-American."
The group said that out of 787 federal positions, only 95 are held by black judges.