Grassley wants hearing on Trump AG before inauguration

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Biden says Ginsburg successor should be picked by candidate who wins on Nov. 3 MORE (R-Iowa) is signaling he wants to move quickly on President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE's nomination of Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump's policies on refugees are as simple as ABCs Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status White House officials voted by show of hands on 2018 family separations: report MORE (R-Ala.) as attorney general.

"Historically, at least in the case of [John] Ashcroft and in the case of [Eric] Holder, we've had the hearings prior to the inauguration," Grassley told reporters. "And it would be my intention to move ahead in that procedure that we did with Ashcroft and with Holder."

The confirmation hearing for Holder started on Jan. 16, 2009, four days before President Obama was inaugurated. He was confirmed as Obama's first attorney general in early February of that year.

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Grassley will be responsible for starting Sessions's confirmation process as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Grassley is also the first lawmaker to meet with Sessions.

In a statement after the meeting, Grassley said that he and Sessions discussed "a number of issues" including congressional oversight and and criminal justice reform.

Grassley spearheaded a bill last year, which Sessions actively opposed, to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The Iowa lawmaker added that he's sent a questionnaire to Sessions and will set a hearing date once it is returned.

Democrats have pledged to fight Sessions's nomination, suggesting his selection reflects their larger concerns about how the Trump administration will handle immigration and civil rights. 

They have questioned whether the Alabama Republican would be committed to providing equal protection to all Americans, three decades after Sessions was blocked from a federal judgeship because of racism accusations that surfaced during his confirmation hearing.

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Grassley appeared to hit back at those accusations, telling reporters that Sessions would be an "even-handed" attorney general and that he believes Republicans and Democrats would give Sessions a fair hearing.

"Everybody on the Judiciary Committee knows Senator Sessions very well," he said. "They know that he's a very honorable man. They know that he's a man of integrity."

Grassley added that Democrats should resist turning the confirmation hearings into an "attack" on Sessions's character. 

"The confirmation process of John Ashcroft to be Attorney General turned into a reckless campaign that snowballed into an avalanche of innuendo, rumor and spin. That will not happen here," he said. 

Sessions — who voted to confirm Holder as the nation's first black attorney general — has repeatedly denied the accusations that he called an African-American assistant U.S. attorney “boy” or that he called the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union “un-American.”

Democrats face an uphill battle to stop Sessions's nomination because of their decision to go "nuclear" in 2013 and lower the threshold for most nominations to a simple majority. 

Every Republican member on the Judiciary Committee has come out in support of the nomination, and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Gardner on court vacancy: Country needs to mourn Ginsburg 'before the politics begin' Barrett seen as a front-runner for Trump Supreme Court pick MORE (W.Va.) became the first Democrat to say he will support Sessions.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynCalls grow for Biden to expand election map in final sprint Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection MORE (Texas) on Tuesday said it's a "virtual certainty" that Sessions will be confirmed.

- Alexander Bolton contributed. Updated at 1:04 p.m.