Democrats won the Senate, but they’re not in charge until the chamber’s party leaders strike a power-sharing agreement.
A stalemate has prevented Democrats from taking control of key committees since the chamber is operating under the rules of the last Congress, when the GOP was in charge, delaying consideration of attorney general nominee Merrick Garland, who is expected to receive bipartisan support.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, rejected a Democratic request on Monday to schedule Garland’s confirmation hearing on February 8, arguing that the Senate needs to focus on the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, which is set to start the following day.
The South Carolina Republican said in a letter that a “one-day hearing” was “insufficient,” and noted that previous attorney general nominees received two-day hearings.
“When the Senate’s focus is required to consider whether to bar a former president from being reelected, other business must stop,” Graham wrote. “Proceeding with the confirmation of an attorney general and the impeachment of a former president at the same time would give neither the attention required.”
Until Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer strike an agreement, Graham will continue to determine the panel’s schedule rather than Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. The party leaders could finalize a deal as soon as Tuesday; Graham said he guessed he’d be Judiciary Committee chairman for “another day or two.”
McConnell declined Tuesday to comment on the topic. Party leaders are haggling over a final few points, including how to structure committee budgets, before finalizing the power-sharing agreement that will officially allow Democrats to take their chairmanships, according to Senate officials familiar with the talks. Democrats hold a majority in the 50-50 Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris has the power to break tie votes in the chamber.
The negotiations were held up for more than a week over a disagreement about whether Democrats had to promise in writing that they wouldn’t blow up the filibuster. McConnell ended his request after moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said they had no plans to vote to eliminate the filibuster anytime soon.
Durbin blamed McConnell for the holdup and said he has “several options” to schedule Garland’s hearing. He declined to provide details.
“I don’t like any of them,” he said. “I think February 8 is the best, fairest way to do it.”
“Sorry to say that Judge Merrick Garland, who is a wonderful man, is going to retire the trophy for bad behavior by the United States Senate,” he added, referring to how Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court was ignored by the GOP Senate majority in 2016.
Some Senate Republicans have indicated they would vote to confirm Garland, including McConnell, according to The New York Times.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday he’s inclined to vote for Garland. He said he would support an “early” committee hearing and would “encourage” Graham to schedule one.
“I would support an early markup for Merrick Garland,” Cornyn said. “I think he’s not political, which is my number one criterion for the next attorney general.”
Graham said he also liked Garland.
“I’ll probably vote for him,” said the senator.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.