Sen. Roger Wicker arrives at the Senate Chamber at the Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Roger Wicker, Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, made national headlines last week when he criticized President Joe Biden’s promise to nominate an African American woman to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

During a recent interview on Mississippi’s statewide conservative radio network, Wicker said the nominee would be “the beneficiary” of a “quota.”

Wicker offered nary a single word of criticism in 2020 after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when then-President Donald Trump promised to nominate a woman to the nation’s highest court.

Wicker’s comments beg the question: Why is he OK if a president promises to nominate a woman, but he’s not OK when a president promises to nominate a Black woman?

Is the problem, from his perspective, one of race and not of gender?

When asked that question a few days after the radio interview, Wicker said in an e-mailed response: “When Mr. Biden was trailing in the primaries, he made a promise to consider only Black females for the Supreme Court vacancy. Some 76% of Americans disagree with such a position, saying it is best for the president to choose from among all qualified applicants for the job.”

Former President Trump also was in the midst of a presidential campaign — for re-election — when he made the commitment to nominate a woman to replace Ginsburg.

And in 2016, during his first campaign, Trump released a list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court who consisted solely of white people. Wicker also did not have a problem with that list. Was the all-white list a “quota?”

It must not have been in Wicker’s eyes.

Later that summer at the Neshoba County Fair, Wicker offered a full-throated endorsement of Trump and offered no thoughts on the list of solely white people he had offered as potential Supreme Court nominees should he win the presidency, which he did later that year.

In recent years, Wicker, a former state senator and U.S. House member who was elected to the U.S. Senate is 2008, has taken some brave stands — stands that many believed could hurt him politically.

In 2015, Wicker and Thad Cochran, then the state’s senior U.S. senator, on the same day announced their support for changing the state flag, which incorporated the Confederate battle emblem in its design. Their announcements came in the wake of the shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church killing nine African Americans by a white supremist who highlighted the Confederate flag on his social media page.

Wicker and Cochran were among the first Republican politicians in the state to take such a stand.

He said, in part, at the time: “I have not viewed Mississippi’s current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others.

“In I Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul said he had no personal objection to eating meat sacrificed to idols. But he went on to say that ‘if food is a cause of trouble to my brother, or makes my brother offend, I will give up eating meat.’ The lesson from this passage leads me to conclude that the flag should be removed since it causes offense to so many of my brothers and sisters, creating dissention rather than unity.”

Then in 2021, Wicker was the sole Republican in Mississippi’s congressional delegation to vote to certify the presidential election over the protests of Trump, who argued despite no evidence that he had won. Trump was in essence calling for the overthrow of the U.S. system of government. Wicker would have no part in it.

And more recently, Wicker was the only Mississippi Republican to vote for the landmark Biden infrastructure bill.

“I served with Roger Wicker,” said state Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, referring to when Wicker was a state senator. “I know he is not a racist. I like Roger, but his comment sounded racist. He is better than that.”

Perhaps talking on the conservative radio show, Wicker felt he needed to try to build his credibility with Trump supporters when he spoke of quotas — to save face politically with hardcore conservatives after some of those brave stands.

On the radio show, Wicker proclaimed the Biden nominee “will probably not get a single Republican vote” in the U.S. Senate.

But speaking days later in response to questions, he took a more moderate tone.

“I will review the president’s nominee on the basis of her qualifications and judicial philosophy,” he said. “Republicans will accord her all the courtesy and respect that was not shown to (Republican judicial nominees) Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, and Janice Rogers Brown.”

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.