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GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst

The Republican investigations into the Obama administration are fueling public animosity in the Senate.

Those tensions, which have been simmering for months, boiled over this past week, resulting in shouting matches and multiple warnings of long-standing damage to the chamber as an institution.

The scene played out across days, on and off the floor and in multiple committee rooms, as both Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban 'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party Republicans fret over divisive candidates MORE (R-Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Overnight Energy: Biden reportedly will pledge to halve US emissions by 2030 | Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce Green New Deal resolution MORE (R-S.C.) took up subpoenas related to their investigations and former Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinProtect the police or the First Amendment? Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Comey argues Trump shouldn't be prosecuted after leaving Oval Office MORE testified for the first time since resigning last year.

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Graham, a top Trump ally of President TrumpDonald TrumpUS gives examples of possible sanctions relief to Iran GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House passes bill aimed at stopping future Trump travel ban MORE, tipped his hand to the months of building frustration, much of which has played out in shots fired through the press, saying Democrats had made it “abundantly clear” that they disagree with him and “think I am in Trump’s pocket.”

“It’s not lost on me,” Graham said. “But to expect me to punt? You can forget it.”

Democrats view the probes as an effort by Republicans to use their Senate gavels to go after Trump’s political enemies — including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCornyn, Sinema to introduce bill aimed at addressing border surge Harris to travel to Northern Triangle region in June Biden expected to formally recognize Armenian Genocide: report MORE, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee — ahead of November.

“This is going to be a Trump reelect show from start to finish,” Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinCornyn, Sinema to introduce bill aimed at addressing border surge Harris casts tiebreaking vote to advance Biden nominee Bipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge MORE (D-Ill.) told The Hill.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCapitol Police chief: Threats against lawmakers up nearly 65 percent since last year Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl Senate Democrats call on Biden to restore oversight of semiautomatic and sniper rifle exports MORE (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former chairman, called Graham’s subpoena threat “the Senate at its worst.”

The bickering comes as Republicans are ramping up their investigations into decisions stemming from the Obama administration, including the FBI’s probe into Russia's election interference and the Trump campaign and former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

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Graham on Thursday delayed a vote on a wide-ranging subpoena, which would include more than 50 people, after a fierce clash with Democrats over the request. They will instead vote on the subpoena on Thursday, when Graham is expected to ultimately have the votes.

Durbin, during the hearing, told Graham that he viewed the investigation as about a “president who just can't get over it — maybe he will never will — and by a chairman who wants him to have another day to make his point about how he was mistreated.”

Graham interrupted to say, "With all due respect, I don't buy what you're saying at all."

The rancor, which comes in the lead-up to the 2020 election, is the latest high-profile fight in a Senate increasingly battered by partisan tensions, ranging from Supreme Court nominations to an impeachment trial that ended only four months ago.

Just this past week, the Senate confirmed Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, despite an active investigation by the D.C. attorney general and an attempt by Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to delay the vote.

“I have been really patient. Every time that I set this for a hearing and they wanted more time, I let that go,” said Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischSenate panel greenlights sweeping China policy bill Pompeo joins GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill to introduce Iran sanctions act GOP lawmakers block Biden assistance to Palestinians MORE (R-Idaho) as he rejected the attempt to delay Michael Pack’s nomination.

But the Judiciary Committee, in particular, has been at the center of some of the chamber’s biggest fights, including Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughFeehery: The left-wing hysteria machine Biden's court-packing theater could tame the Supreme Court's conservatives Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting MORE’s Supreme Court nomination and William BarrBill BarrGroups see new openings for digging up dirt on Trump Amy Coney Barrett receives million advance for book deal: report Garland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees MORE’s attorney general nomination. At the same hearing where Graham delayed the subpoena vote, the committee also voted along party lines to send Justin Walker’s D.C. Circuit nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinLawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' Senate Democrats call on Biden to restore oversight of semiautomatic and sniper rifle exports Overnight Defense: Army moves to combat sexual crimes | Eight West Point cadets expelled | Democratic senators want to restrict F-35 sale to UAE MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, warned that if Graham goes forward with the subpoena, he’ll be setting a long-lasting and, in her view, damaging precedent for how the committee uses its investigatory powers.

“Once the door is opened to proceeding in this manner – to allowing the chairman sweeping, unilateral authority to subpoena political opponents – that door remains open, regardless of which party has majority power,” she said.

Graham, however, argued that Democrats being unwilling to help him investigate “says a lot, I think, not good about this committee.”

“I feel passionately about what I’m doing and why, and I don’t need anybody to validate to me I know what I’m up to. I think I’ve been more than fair. They have a different view and that’s the way it goes,” he added to The Hill.

Johnson successfully got subpoena authority to compel more than 30 individuals to testify and demand a wide swath of documents as he probes what he sees as “corruption” stemming from the Obama administration, including the Russia investigation, the case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired after lying about his conversations with a Russian ambassador, and embarrassing leaks dating back to the early days of Trump’s presidency. 

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But before Johnson did so, he got an earful from both sides of the aisle who questioned if the investigation was the best use of the committee’s time during a pandemic.

Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersHillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes MORE (Mich.), the top Democrat on the committee, said the subpoena request looked like a “fishing expedition” that came even as the Justice Department is investigating much of the same ground.

"To duplicate the Justice Department's efforts now suggests that this pursuit is more about duplicating headlines than any real need for an investigation," Peters said.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate panel greenlights sweeping China policy bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Tensions rise as U.S. waits for Derek Chauvin verdict Mark Halperin hired by bipartisan policy group No Labels MORE (R-Utah) said he had struck a deal with Johnson that would let him support the subpoena authority request but not without raising concerns about the probe.

"I believe there are far more urgent priorities the committee should address," Romney said. "I continue to be concerned that this is politically motivated."

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHarris casts tiebreaking vote to advance Biden nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After historic verdict, Chauvin led away in handcuffs How to save the Amazon rainforest MORE (R-Ohio) voted to allow Johnson to issue the subpoenas but said he hoped the chairman wouldn’t ultimately do so amid “all of the other things we have on our plate right now” and “unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

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In the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSenate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban On The Money: Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl | Senate confirms SEC chief Gensler to full five-year term | Left-leaning group raises concerns about SALT cap repeal Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl MORE (R-Neb.) also found himself at odds with Graham after he fumed that the public sparring was “bullshit” fueled because there were TV cameras in the room.

“Ninety percent of our committees are about people trolling for sound bites,” Sasse added.

The moment had a perhaps unintended consequence: It rallied Graham to defend Democrats as well as his own right to argue with them.

"I didn’t want to say anybody’s grandstanding. They genuinely disagree with what I’m doing. I genuinely disagree with their approach to how we should do oversight," Graham told The Hill. "Sen. Sasse is frustrated, but I don't want to cheapen what they're doing. I don't think they're playing to the cameras. I think they sincerely believe what they believe."