The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination of Merrick Garland to be attorney general by a bipartisan vote Monday, setting up a potential final floor vote on confirmation as early as this week.
The 15-7 vote was expected, as senators from both parties had indicated they supported Garland leaving his longtime spot on the federal appeals court in Washington to run the Justice Department.
Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the committee chair, said there wasn’t much left to say about Garland and called him “a man of extraordinary qualifications.”
“His life has been dedicated to public service and advancing values that are vital to the Justice Department’s functioning: integrity, independence, fidelity to the rule of law and a commitment to equal justice for all,” Durbin said.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s top Republican, voted for Garland but aired concerns about how he would act on any Biden administration policies on gun control, the death penalty and illegal immigration.
“It’ll be up to Judge Garland to stand up to efforts to turn the Justice Department into an arm of the perfect progressive wing of the Democratic Party, as happened under President [Barack]Obama,” Grassley said.
And Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who voted to advance the nomination, raised concerns that Garland had not clearly committed to continuing a special counsel investigation by John Durham into the origins of the department’s probe into connections between former President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives. Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also voted for Garland.
Republican senators who voted against Garland were Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Cruz and Lee cited concerns about Garland’s answer on the Durham probe issue and what they described as refusals to answer questions on immigration enforcement and more, and no commitment to back Second Amendment protections for gun ownership.
“On question after question after question, Judge Garland refused to answer virtually anything,” Cruz said. “Judge Garland has told this committee, ‘I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing.’”
Cruz, Hawley and Kennedy were among senators who voted on Jan. 6 to reject Electoral College votes from states where presidential election results were certified and uncontested other than allegations about irregularities from the losing candidate himself, Trump.
And those allegations consisted mainly of a toxic mix of lies, misinformation, conspiracy theories and bogus legal arguments that state and federal judges, even those whom Trump appointed, quickly booted from court. Those allegations also fueled the Trump-inspired mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress counted the electoral votes.
Garland, who said his first meeting would be about the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, breezed through his confirmation hearing last month, leaning on his reputation as a centrist and his history as a former terrorism prosecutor.
Garland also avoided controversial statements in his written answers to committee members that show the breadth of contentious issues he will face if confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
That included his support for eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, what gun control policies he might back and how he would run the Justice Department’s part of immigration enforcement.
Garland also told the committee in the written answers that he did not think it worth the department’s time to pursue prosecutions “of those who are complying with the laws in states that have legalized and are effectively regulating marijuana.”