Graham set to take over Judiciary

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOcasio-Cortez: By Lindsey Graham's 1999 standard for Clinton, Trump should be impeached Senate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump Former FBI official says Mueller won’t be ‘colored by politics’ in Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) is poised to become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee after Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Five takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda MORE (R-Iowa) announced Friday that he would step down to take over the chairmanship of the Finance Committee.

The shuffle would put Graham, a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE who made headlines this fall with a forceful denunciation of Democrats during Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughDemocrats will fail if they portray William Barr as controversial pick ‘Justice’ selected as Merriam-Webster’s 2018 word of the year Chief justice of California Supreme Court leaves GOP over Kavanaugh confirmation MORE's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, in charge of the panel handling judicial nominations.

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Graham is up for reelection in 2020.  

He praised Grassley’s leadership of the committee in a Tweet Friday. 

“I very much appreciate Senate @ChuckGrassley’s leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He chaired the committee with a steady hand, sense of fundamental fairness, and resolve,” Graham tweeted. “His leadership serves as a model to us all.”

In a subsequent statement, Graham said he would make confirming conservative judges a top priority.

“If I am fortunate enough to be selected by my colleagues to serve as chairman, I will push for the appointment and Senate confirmation of highly qualified conservative judges to the federal bench and aggressive oversight of the Department of Justice and FBI,” he said.

Graham’s ascension to chairman must be ratified by his GOP colleagues on Judiciary, but that is considered merely a formality.

The South Carolina Republican will also have jurisdiction over the Department of Justice and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into the Trump administration.

Graham met Thursday with Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general whom Trump appointed to replace Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPresidential historian: Trump's actions may be 'definition of treason' if he knew about Russian interference efforts Trump admin seeks to roll back Obama-era policy on school discipline: report Trump: Sessions 'should be ashamed of himself' for allowing Russia probe to proceed MORE the day after the election.

Whitaker assured the senator that he saw no reason to fire Mueller, something that has been a top concern of Democrats and some Republicans since Sessions’s resignation. 

“As to Mueller investigation, I’m confident that it is not in jeopardy,” Graham said after meeting with Whitaker. 

Whitaker told Graham that he doesn’t think Mueller’s probe has breached any guidelines.

“There’s no reason to fire him. I asked him, ‘Do you have any reason to [fire] Mr. Mueller. He said he has zero reason to believe anything is being done wrong with the Mueller investigation,” Graham said, recounting the conversation. 

Grassley, who was fiercely criticized by Democrats for his handling of Kavanaugh’s nomination, said he’s looking forward to working on economic issues. 

“The economy is better than it’s been in years and there’s a sense of optimism about the future of our country that people haven’t felt in a long time thanks to the pro-growth policies of a Republican President and a Republican majority in Congress,” Grassley said in a statement. “Looking ahead, at the Finance Committee, I want to continue to work to make sure that as many Americans as possible get to experience this good economy for themselves.”

Grassley said he would focus on passing additional tax relief, expanding markets for farmers, manufacturers and service providers, and reforming health care. 

The Senate Finance Committee is one of the most powerful in Congress. It was at the center of the health care and tax reform debates of 2017 and also has jurisdiction over trade and the major entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. 

-- Updated 1:51 p.m.