Democrats urge Graham to back down from rules change threat

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGiffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms Trump pick labeled 'not qualified' by American Bar Association Feinstein endorses Christy Smith for Katie Hill's former House seat MORE (D-Calif.) is urging Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' MORE (R-S.C.) to back down from his threat to change the panel’s rules in order to vote on an asylum bill.

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, sent Graham a letter Friday asking that he delay his bill until after the August recess.


“Our Committee rules are intended to ensure meaningful participation by both the majority and the minority, regardless which party is in charge,” Feinstein wrote.

“Your announcement to disregard these rules, proceed with legislation in violation of our rules and practices, and change the rules unilaterally in a partisan manner is deeply concerning,” she added.

Feinstein’s letter comes after Graham threatened to change the committee’s rules after every Democrat besides Feinstein skipped a business meeting on Thursday where Graham’s bill was on the agenda. It wasn’t clear if the absences were an attempt to block the Judiciary Committee from voting on Graham’s bill or if senators had scheduling conflicts. 

Under the committee's rules the panel isn't supposed to take up legislation unless there are at least seven members from the majority and two from the minority. But Graham warned during a meeting this week that "what we'll do is we'll take this up Thursday, next week, I will make a motion to change the rules ... and we're going to vote." 

The GOP chairman introduced legislation earlier this year that would would increase the number of days a migrant family can be held together from 20 days to 100 days. Democrats have balked at changes to the Flores settlement, which limits the amount of time a minor can be held in custody to 20 days.

It would also require asylum claims be filed in Mexico or a home country instead of the United States, provide funding for 500 new immigration judges and allow unaccompanied minors from Central America to be sent back to their home countries, similar to unaccompanied minors from Canada or Mexico.

The bill has divided the panel over whether or not to make changes to the Flores settlement, which Democrats view as a non-starter and Graham views as a must-have requirement in legislation.

Republicans have a majority on the Judiciary Committee and would have the votes to change the committee's rules and pass the asylum bill on their own.

But Feinstein argued that pushing through the bill next week would be “fundamentally misguided” and “set an unfortunate precedent for the future.”

“If the Majority party can simply ignore Committee rules when they become inconvenient and proceed in any manner it so chooses, then the Committee cannot function,” Feinstein added. 

The committee had been expected to vote on Graham's bill last month, but Graham scrapped the vote after he and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSupreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade Protecting the future of student data privacy: The time to act is now Overnight Health Care: Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills | CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths | Massachusetts passes flavored tobacco, vaping products ban MORE (D-Ill.) met with White House adviser and Trump's son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDemocrat calls for investigation of possible 'inappropriate influence' by Trump in border wall contract Judge temporarily halts construction of a private border wall in Texas Mueller witness linked to Trump charged in scheme to illegally funnel money to Clinton campaign MORE to try to find a path toward a bipartisan agreement.

A Democratic aide calls Graham’s threat to move forward a “sad moment for the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Graham, who is trashing the last remaining vestige of his bipartisan legacy.”

“This is a marked contrast to Senator Graham’s predecessor, Senator Grassley, who only marked up legislation with bipartisan support. That was a constructive approach that led to significant bipartisan legislation, even when we disagreed about judicial nominations,” the aide said.

—updated at 9:15 p.m.