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GOP wants to move fast on Sessions

GOP wants to move fast on Sessions
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Senate Republicans are signaling they want to move quickly on Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Sessions, top DOJ officials knew 'zero tolerance' would separate families, watchdog finds MORE’s attorney general nomination. 

The Alabama Republican kicked off his Capitol Hill lobbying effort on Tuesday, meeting with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Treasury announces efforts to help people get stimulus payments | Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury | Judge sets ground rules for release of Trump taxes Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury Finance Committee vote on Yellen nomination scheduled for Friday MORE (R-Iowa), who told reporters that he wants a confirmation hearing before Inauguration Day.

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Grassley noted that the first attorney generals for former President George W. Bush and President Obama came before their bosses were sworn into office.

“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 said. “And it would be my intention to move ahead in that procedure that we did with Ashcroft and with Holder.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Senators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) signaled that Grassley’s call for an early hearing is part of a broader strategy. 

“I’ve encouraged all our committee chairmen to go ahead and have hearings and markups on the Cabinet appointments,” he told reporters. “In the past we’ve been able to confirm a number of the incoming president’s Cabinet appointments on day one.” 

Sessions needs a simple majority in the Senate to win confirmation given the move by Democrats to gut filibuster rules that previously would have required a supermajority of 60 votes. 

Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Biden faces tall order in uniting polarized nation MORE (D-Nev.) indicated Tuesday that he didn’t regret the decision to change the filibuster. 

Republicans are expected to have 52 seats in 2017, and one Democrat, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Durbin: Senate should consider changes to filibuster MORE (W.Va.), has already announced support for Sessions.

Every Republican member of the Judiciary Committee has pledged to support his nomination, and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Memo: Biden gambles that he can do it all Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration MORE (R-Texas) said Tuesday that it’s a “virtual certainty” that he will be confirmed. 

“Beyond the merits of the nominees, which are very solid, you have the fact that the Democrats changed the rules to require 51 votes,” said Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. 

Democrats are signaling they intend to battle over Sessions. 

Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee in a letter to Grassley said they expect the committee hearings to last at least four days. 

“Senator Sessions has developed an extensive record on important issues within this committee’s jurisdiction. ... The committee must devote adequate time to examining those issues,” they wrote. “We urge you to ensure that the nomination process is thorough, transparent, and fair—not just a rubber stamp.” 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader MORE (Calif.), the panel’s ranking member in the next Congress, joined Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority MORE (Vt.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Durbin: Senate should consider changes to filibuster MORE (Ill.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseBiden expands on Obama ethics pledge Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over Capitol attack MORE (R.I.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Biden agenda, Trump impeachment trial dominate Klobuchar says Senate impeachment trial of former official is constitutional: 'We have precedent' MORE (Minn.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenHarrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans The Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots MORE (Minn.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (Del.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) on the letter. 

Sessions is generally well-respected by colleagues, and the Democrats noted they each have “personal and cordial relationships with him.” 

But Democrats are signaling a desire to make the Sessions fight about Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE. They question whether Sessions, one of the earliest supporters of the president-elect, will be able to say no to Trump when he takes the reins at the Justice Department. 

“He will have to be an independent attorney general who is willing to set aside personal beliefs and political positions in service of larger obligations,” they wrote. “The attorney
general must be the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer, and must enforce the laws with a dispassionate and even hand.” 

Sessions was blocked 30 years ago from a federal judgeship after allegations of racism surfaced during committee hearings. He has 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.”

He also voted for Holder, the first African-American attorney general, and in favor of extending the Civil Rights Act. At least nine law enforcement groups have backed his nomination. 

Democrats said that the Senate “must ask whether Senator Sessions is the right man to lead the agency charged with securing and protecting the constitutional and civil rights of all Americans.” 

Grassley is warning Democrats that he won’t allow them to slow walk Sessions’s nomination or use the hearings to launch personal attacks against their colleague. 

“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,” he said in a statement after the meeting. “That will not happen here.” 

Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat who sits on the committee, stressed that Democrats want a “thorough” hearing but stopped short of saying they would object to Grassley’s proposed schedule. 

“If they can get prepared, I don’t want to slow it down. We want to go into a thorough hearing, but we’re not going to speed up this schedule,” he said. “We want to do it in an orderly fashion.”  

Alex Bolton contributed.