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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 SessionsOne quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors Biden fills immigration court with Trump hires Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report 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 GrahamPro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood causes headache for GOP in key S.C. race GOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP 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 ManchinJoe ManchinFormer OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans Jill Biden, Jennifer Garner go mask-free on vaccine-promoting West Virginia trip 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's probe. They also say Barr is hedging about if he’ll make Mueller’s findings public. 

Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden to go one-on-one with Manchin US, Iran signal possible breakthroughs in nuke talks How the United States can pass Civics 101 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 FeinsteinInfrastructure deal imperiled by differences on financing If you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap 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 McConnellWashington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Lawmakers reach agreement on bipartisan Jan. 6 commission 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.