Top Court Saga Upends Even Routine Judiciary Committee Business

Grassley, center, and Leahy, right, in better times. They are now arguing about when and where the Judiciary Committee should conduct its routine business. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Amid the ongoing dispute about how to handle an expected Supreme Court nomination, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee now can't agree on when — or where — to hold a routine markup.  

Ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy blasted the panel's chairman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, for scrapping the committee's agenda for another week. Among the bills up for review: a measure championed by GOP presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would allow for revoking the U.S. citizenship from Americans who travel to fight for ISIS.  

"The Senate Judiciary Committee has not had a business meeting since the untimely passing of Justice [Antonin] Scalia," Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement sent late Wednesday. "Instead, the chairman met only with the Republican members of the committee last week in a back room of the Capitol without the press or even Democratic members present. That is not how the Senate Judiciary Committee should operate, especially when issues relating to our constitutional duty are involved."  

Democrats continue to hammer Grassley over the decision by Senate Republicans not to hold hearings or allow a vote on any person selected by President Barack Obama to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left when Scalia died Feb. 13.  

Grassley's staff chalks up the decision to scheduling. A bill designed to combat opioid addiction is now on the Senate floor, and the Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction over the measure. But, the majority says, Leahy objected to relocating the panel's Thursday markup to a room in the Capitol near the floor.  

"'[Grassley] asked to hold tomorrow’s business meeting off the Senate floor, which has been done routinely under both Democratic and Republican leadership, to allow processing some nominees and holding over legislation for next week. Instead, the ranking member objected to the mark-up, so the chairman has decided to postpone the meeting until next week so the managers of the bill can work on getting another Judiciary Committee-passed bill over the finish line," Judiciary Republicans said.  

While many committees routinely hold off-the-floor markups to accommodate senators' schedules and to secure the quorum needed to conduct business, there are longstanding concerns about the level of media access to such sessions, which frequently are only open to print media. Markups conducted in the usual locations in the Senate office buildings generally have live video feeds available, or in the case of the Appropriations Committee, an audio feed.  

Majority staff said that a hearing scheduled for earlier this week on the EB-5 visa program was pushed back at the request of the Democrats because of the anti-opioid bill pending on the floor.  

Contact lesniewski at nielslesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at@nielslesniewski

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