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Senate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Thursday to expand the authority of the Justice Department inspector general over opposition from Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP Graham warns about trying to 'drive' Trump from GOP: 'Half the people will leave' MORE (R-S.C.) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The committee voted 21-1 on the legislation, which would give the DOJ watchdog the authority to investigate attorneys within the department. Graham was the only senator to vote against the measure.

The vote sends it to the full Senate, where supporters acknowledge they don't know if it will get taken up for a vote in the face of opposition from Graham, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrLawyer for former officer charged in George Floyd death alleges witness coercion CNN legal analyst joins DOJ's national security division Barr threatened to resign over Trump attempts to fire Wray: report MORE.

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Graham tried to change the legislation to require the attorney general to sign off on investigations into potential DOJ attorney misconduct.

"I'm not going to support legislation that allows an IG to investigate discretionary decisions at the Department of Justice. If there's a dispute about misconduct between the IG and the attorney general, the last word will be the attorney general who is politically accountable," Graham said of his proposed change.

Graham noted that he had spoken with Barr about the legislation three times. He said the attorney general did not support his proposal either but DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz did.

"I don't think he's ever going to get to yes on any process that allows the IG to look at DOJ lawyers and people under their charge,” Graham said of Barr.

But the committee voted down his amendment, instead passing the bill as originally written by Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Energy: Colonial Pipeline says it has restored full service | Biden urges people not to panic about gasoline shortages | EPA rescinds Trump-era cost-benefit rule Senate panel advances Biden's deputy Interior pick Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech MORE (R-Utah) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinSweeping election reform bill faces Senate buzz saw Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Biden's internal polling touts public support for immigration reform MORE (D-Ill.).

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Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinIf you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, argued that Graham’s amendment would give the attorney general “veto power” over an inspector general's work.

The vote comes after the bill was held up in committee for weeks as supporters of the legislation tried to negotiate a compromise with the DOJ, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lee said that they tried to negotiate in “good faith,” but didn’t want to agree to water down their bill if the DOJ wasn’t going to support it anyway.

"The Department of Justice has not agreed to this compromise. It's time to take an up or down vote as written,” he said. "We shouldn't be asked to compromise without any compromise on the other end.”

Durbin added that DOJ “hates this ... like the devil hates holy water.”

"It makes no sense to weaken this bill without the attorney general's support,” he said.