Garland could be stuck in Senate limbo for several more weeks

Merrick Garland, President Biden’s choice to head the Justice Department, could be in Senate limbo for several more weeks as Republicans say they will not agree to process Biden’s nominees during this week’s budget debate or next week’s impeachment trial.

It’s an eerie sense of déjà vu for Garland, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was bottled up in the Senate for nearly a year in 2016, when Republicans refused to give him a hearing because they argued the winner of that year’s presidential election should fill the vacancy left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Newly minted Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says he will ask for consent from Republicans to hold a hearing for Garland on Feb. 8, but he’s not expected to get it, as he would need consent from Republican members of the Judiciary Committee to waive committee rules requiring hearings be noticed a week in advance.

“I’m going to see if Sen. Grassley and I can reach an agreement,” Durbin said, referring to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is taking over as the ranking minority member of the Judiciary panel.

Republicans are blaming Democrats for Garland’s holdup, arguing that their decision to move ahead with a partisan budget resolution — which would allow the Senate to pass a COVID-19 relief bill with a simple-majority vote later this year — and hold a second impeachment trial for former President Trump will force them to object to other business.

“The Democrats have chosen the agenda and they’ve chosen to do the budget resolution, so if there’s delay in nomination it’s because it’s their choice,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Cornyn said it would take unanimous consent to process Biden nominees during the budget debate and added “it can’t be during the impeachment.”

“That’s what I don’t understand, frankly, about some of the decisions they make, because while they’re saying they need to get the administration up and running and get some people confirmed, they are the single biggest impediment to that happening.” 

The Senate is scheduled to take a recess during the week of Feb. 15, which means that Garland may not win confirmation until the last week of February.

Durbin said that could pose a threat to national security.

“It’s the last major element of our national security team. I think it should be a high priority,” he said.

Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said Tuesday that Republicans have shut down the processing of Biden’s nominees over the next two weeks before the recess.

That means that Denis McDonough, Biden’s choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, could also be in limbo. His nomination unanimously out of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“I talked to Chuck about it … McConnell said we’re not going to do any noms during budget resolution or impeachment,” Tester said, referring to the message Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) relayed to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“Other than just because he can do that, I don’t know why he would do that,” Tester said of McConnell blocking Biden’s nominees from the floor over the next two weeks. 

Tags Biden transition Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Denis McDonough Department of Veterans Affairs Dick Durbin Donald Trump John Cornyn Jon Tester Justice Department Merrick Garland Mitch McConnell

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