The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday voted to advance Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination for attorney general, despite opposition from Republicans who accused President Biden’s pick to lead the Justice Department of dodging their questions.
The panel voted 15-7, largely along party lines, to move Judge Garland’s nomination out of the Democratic-led committee for a full floor vote. It is not clear when the Senate will vote on the nomination.
Republicans slammed Judge Garland as unresponsive to their questions, saying they are left to guess about his views on vital issues facing the Justice Department. The line of attack signals the issues Republicans will seize upon when Judge Garland’s nomination lands before the full Senate.
“I am actually just really disappointed. I wanted to vote for Judge Garland and was looking forward to doing so,” said Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican. “I was very disappointed that in response to a number of my questions, I didn’t get answers. And it’s not that I didn’t get the answers that I wanted, it’s that I wasn’t getting a substantive answer at all.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, compared Judge Garland to Sgt. Schultz, a character from the “Hogan’s Heroes” television show, whose catchphrase was “I see nothing. I know nothing.”
Mr. Cruz said not only was Judge Garland unresponsive during his confirmation hearing, but his written answers to senators also shed little light on how he’d lead the Justice Department.
“I didn’t think it was possible for answers to be less forthcoming in writing than in person,” the senator said.
During Judge Garland’s confirmation hearing last week, he avoided providing direct answers to questions from Republican senators. He declined to commit to allowing special counsel John Durham to continue his investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe.
Mr. Durham resigned recently as U.S. attorney for Connecticut, but that doesn’t affect his position as special counsel.
When pressed about the probe, Judge Garland trod carefully, insisting he needed to learn more about the investigation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, asked Judge Garland whether he thought the Durham was probe was justified, to which he responded: “I don’t know really anything about the investigation.”
Judge Garland also dodged questions about whether illegal border crossings should remain a crime, by saying, he just hadn’t thought about that question.
“If he’s not willing to answer questions now before he’s confirmed, the likelihood of his willingness to answer questions after he’s confirmed is only smaller,” Mr. Cruz said.
Democrats didn’t directly respond to the Republican accusations. Instead, they praised Judge Garland as someone who can restore “normalcy” to the Justice Department after the Trump administration.
“This is the nomination we need at the time we need it,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat.
“Judge Garland’s unshakable commitment to serving his country is deeply rooted in who he is,” Mr. Leahy continued. “He fundamentally grasps that America’s greatness rests in our bedrock principles of justice and the rule of law.
Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee joined Republican Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee in voting against Judge Garland.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s top Republican, voted to advance the nomination but added that he was concerned about Judge Garland’s stance on the Second Amendment.
All the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of Judge Garland, and no Democrats have said they will oppose the nomination.
Despite the vociferous opposition from senators on the panel, he is expected to earn some GOP support on the Senate floor.
Senate Minority Mitch Leader has said he supports the nomination, virtually ensuring that Judge Garland will be confirmed next week.
Democrats would only need their own 50 votes in order to confirm a Biden nominees anyway because Vice President Kamala Harris could break a deadlock.
The vote to confirm Judge Garland comes nearly five years after he was denied a confirmation hearing or vote after President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court. Ultimately the seat was filled by former President Trump’s pick, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.
Next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Vanita Gupta, Mr. Biden’s pick for the No. 3 position at the Justice Department.
On Monday, the Republican attorneys general in five states slammed the pick, saying she supports defund the position. In a letter to Mr. Biden urging him to withdraw the nomination, the attorneys general said, if confirmed, she will damage the relationship between the Justice Department and local law enforcement.
Despite the opposition from conservative groups, the National Fraternal Order of Police — a group that twice endorsed former President Trump — has endorsed her nomination.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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