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Democrats urge Graham to back down from rules change threat

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinPro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget China has already infiltrated America's institutions Progressive support builds for expanding lower courts MORE (D-Calif.) is urging Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief FBI director faces lawmaker frustration over Capitol breach Juan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP 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.

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“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 DurbinDick DurbinBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Hillicon Valley: Senate confirms Biden Commerce secretary pick Gina Raimondo | Wray hints at federal response to SolarWinds hack | Virginia governor signs comprehensive data privacy law Wray hints at federal response to SolarWinds hack MORE (D-Ill.) met with White House adviser and Trump's son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden to speak with Saudi king 'soon' as pressure builds for Khashoggi report Biden to speak with Saudi king ahead of Khashoggi report: report Former Trump officials eye bids for political office 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.