Senate panel approves Barr nomination

Senate panel approves Barr nomination
© Stefani Reynolds

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved William Barr’s attorney general nomination on Thursday, voting along party lines to send Barr’s nomination to the full Senate.

The 12-10 vote sets up a floor fight over Barr's confirmation for later this month. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority and Democrats cannot block the nomination on their own, so there is little doubt right now about Barr's confirmation.

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Barr, who previously served as attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration, was expected to easily clear the Judiciary Committee, where Republicans have a majority. 

If confirmed, Barr would be the first Senate-confirmed attorney general since Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Washington Times after story on her 'high-dollar hairdo' Trump's tirades, taunts and threats are damaging our democracy MORE left in November. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has come under criticism for not recusing himself from the Mueller probe. 

"I think we need a new attorney general. I appreciate what Mr. Whitaker has done, but I think the time has come for new leadership in the department," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey Graham opens door to calling Hunter Biden to testify MORE (R-S.C.) said ahead of the committee vote. 

No Democrats voted for Barr during Thursday’s vote. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) said Thursday that he will support Barr on the Senate floor.

“I have concluded that Mr. Barr is qualified for the position of Attorney General and his record strongly suggests he will exercise independent judgment and uphold the best interests of the Department of Justice,” Jones said in a statement.

Other potential swing votes, including Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later MORE (D-W.Va.), have yet to say if they will support Barr.

Democrats say they remain concerned about an unsolicited memo Barr sent last year that was critical of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE's probe. They also say Barr is hedging about if he’ll make Mueller’s findings public. 

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMeet the dog and 'sea turtle' who launched campaigns for office Senators demand briefing on Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria 2020 Democrats push for gun control action at forum MORE (D-Del.) announced shortly before Thursday's vote that he would not support Barr, saying he remained "troubled" about the Mueller memo, as well as Barr's views on executive power. 

"I believe that my responsibility to assess Mr. Barr’s candidacy requires me to consider Mr. Barr’s entire record, including his more recent writings and statements, and to focus on Mr. Barr’s ability to meet the tests of our current time," Coons said. 

Barr told senators during his confirmation hearing last month that he would let Mueller finish his investigation, that Trump would not be allowed to “correct” his final report and that he would make Mueller’s findings public in accordance with the law.

Currently under Justice Department guidelines, a special counsel sends a confidential report to the attorney general “explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached” during an investigation.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSchiff should consider using RICO framework to organize impeachment We need answers to questions mainstream media won't ask about Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Syria fallout MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, said Thursday that it was "particularly concerning" that Barr would not commit to sharing Mueller's report and findings with Congress. 

Feinstein also pointed to the Mueller memo, saying that under Barr's theory "the president is above the law in most respects." 

"Taken to its natural conclusion none of our laws would apply to the president unless the president is explicitly named," Feinstein said. "The only conclusion is that the president is above the law. That's stunning." 

The Senate could turn to Barr's nomination as soon as next week. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters during a weekly press conference that it would be next on the Senate's agenda after a public lands bill that is currently on the floor.