GOP senators pitch Merrick Garland for FBI director

GOP senators pitch Merrick Garland for FBI director
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Merrick Garland, former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez's engagement win Obama's endorsement Pence lobbies anti-Trump donors to support reelection: report The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump attacks on McCain rattle GOP senators MORE’s Supreme Court nominee, is gaining an unlikely ally: Senate Republicans.

A pair of Utah lawmakers, Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeStop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over New Zealand coverage GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers MORE and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchNY's political prosecution of Manafort should scare us all Congress must break its addiction to unjust tax extenders The FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate MORE, are urging the White House to include Garland’s name in the search for the next FBI director after President Trump fired James Comey on Tuesday night.

“I suggested that [the White House] ought to consider him,” Hatch told reporters on Thursday. “I didn’t say they should just pick him. I know they’ve got some really excellent people, but I said put Merrick in the list too.”

Lee separately floated on Twitter that instead of naming a special prosecutor for the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election Trump should “nominate Merrick Garland to replace James Comey.”

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The GOP pitch to make Garland the nation’s top law enforcement officer is a reversal from last year, when Republicans refused to give him a hearing or a vote to join the Supreme Court. The move infuriated Democrats and allowed Trump to quickly appoint a justice after taking office.

But Hatch argued on Thursday that the Republican blockade was never about Garland, but rather was about keeping the Supreme Court out of election-year politics.

“Merrick Garland is a very fine fellow. There’s never been an issue with Merrick Garland,” he told reporters. “Merrick is a very fine man. I like Merrick.”

But Lee’s public pitch sparked skepticism from some Democrats.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted an “It’s a trap!” Star Wars GIF in response, adding: “On Merrick Garland for FBI head, this seems...unserious.”

But Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, said the GOP senator's suggestion is serious and added that he pitched Garland after an unrelated meeting at the White House on tax reform.

"He's eminently qualified and has the reputation needed to restore public confidence in FBI," Carroll told The Hill, when asked why Lee would suggest Garland.

Carroll added on Twitter that Garland "has extensive prosecutorial experience including overseeing the OKC bombing investigation."

Garland, then working for the Department of Justice, helped oversee the investigation and prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Whoever succeeds Comey — whom Trump fired Tuesday — would be responsible for overseeing the FBI's investigation into Russia's meddling in last year's presidential election and any possible connections between members of Trump's campaign and Moscow.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Conservatives wage assault on Mueller report Graham expects 'thorough' briefing on Mueller report MORE (R-S.C.), who like Hatch and Lee is a member of the Judiciary Committee, also backed the idea of Garland being on the list of candidates for FBI director.

“Put me on that list of floaters. I like that. I think he's a good guy,” he said asked about Hatch’s and Lee’s idea.

Graham said he hadn’t spoken to the White House to formally pitch Garland but is “thumbs up” about the former Obama nominee potentially succeeding Comey.

Nominating Garland would likely be an easy way to win over Democrats, who overwhelmingly supported his Supreme Court nomination, amid the lingering political fallout over Comey's firing.  

However, Trump’s FBI nominee could technically clear the Senate without any Democratic support. Under a rule change in 2013, executive branch nominees only need a simple majority to be approved and Republicans have 52 seats.

But not every GOP senator was sold on the concept of Garland becoming the next FBI director.

“I’ve heard the rumor but, as far as I know it’s just a rumor,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 MORE (R-Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTreasury expands penalty relief to more taxpayers Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' Drug prices are a matter of life and death MORE (R-Iowa) declined to comment, noting, “I’m going to wait until I see a bunch of names.”

If Trump nominated Garland, his move would open up a seat on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing the president to fill that vacancy.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRisk-averse Republicans are failing the republic Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, pointed to that potential vacancy as a potential boost to the idea.

“It would also create a vacancy in the important D.C. Circuit, so maybe I like it better the more I think about it,” he told the Associated Press.

Asked about his colleagues support for Garland, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFormer astronaut running for Senate in Arizona returns money from paid speech in UAE Fox's Roberts: Trump 'glared at me like I've never seen him glare at me before' Lou Dobbs: Political criticism of McCain 'not an exhumation of his body' MORE (R-Ariz.) — a close Senate ally of Graham — said, “I don’t agree. “

Instead, McCain said he would like to see former Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSchultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid Bottom Line US, allies must stand in united opposition to Iran’s bad behavior MORE (R-N.H.) become FBI director but added that he hadn’t floated the idea to the White House.

Ayotte, who was New Hampshire’s attorney general before joining the Senate, lost her reelection bid last year to Democrat Maggie Hassan.

After leaving office, Ayotte helped guide Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination through the Senate earlier this year.

Though her name has been floated as a potential successor for Comey, a source close to the former lawmaker told CNN that she hasn’t heard from the White House.

Trump told The New York Times late last year that he was passing on giving Ayotte a job in his administration because she didn’t support him during the election.  

“She’d love to have a job in the administration, I said, ‘No, thank you,’” Trump said at the time. “She refused to vote for me.”