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5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony

President TrumpDonald TrumpWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal MORE’s nominee to be attorney general, William Barr, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, for the first of two days of questioning.

Barr will replace acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a controversial figure, if he is confirmed.

What were the main takeaways from his first day of testimony?

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Barr did no harm

Barr cleared the main hurdle for any presidential nominee: He avoided the kind of gaffe that could go viral and blow up his chances.

In fact, he never came close to losing his footing. His demeanor was calm throughout and there were none of the lurches from passivity to aggression that Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael Kavanaugh Klobuchar offers tribute to her father, who died Wednesday Conservative justices split in ruling for immigrant fighting deportation Supreme Court weighs whether to limit issuance of exemptions to biofuel blending requirements MORE showed at his much more controversial hearings in September.

Barr, 68, showed that he is an experienced Washington hand. If confirmed, he will go on to serve his second stint as attorney general, having previously held the position a generation ago in former President George H.W. Bush’s administration. The praise bestowed on him back then by Democrats — including by then-Sen. Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' Biden: McCarthy's support of Cheney ouster is 'above my pay grade' Conservative group sues over prioritization of women, minorities for restaurant aid MORE (Del.) — was cited by Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzYang: Those who thought tweet in support of Israel was 'overly simplistic' are correct CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger Republicans have dumped Reagan for Trump MORE (R-Texas) on Tuesday. 

Barr remained calm throughout the hearing even under sharp questioning from Democrats on the panel.

He needs only a simple majority in a vote of the full Senate, meaning that he should sail to confirmation unless he loses the support of four GOP senators. The chances of that happening seemed vanishingly small Tuesday evening. In 1991, Barr was confirmed by unanimous vote by the Judiciary Committee and later voice vote on the Senate floor. 

Trump won’t like all his answers

If the televisions were on in the White House during Barr’s first day of testimony, Trump would have been irked by several of the answers from his nominee.

Although Barr noted his expansive view of presidential power at several points during the hearing, his language about the FBI, special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE and other controversial topics bore almost no resemblance to Trump’s.

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Barr, as expected, made it plain that he believes Mueller should be able to complete his work. More notably, he said he had confidence in the special counsel when he was first appointed and added, “I still have that confidence today.”

While Trump has repeatedly said the Mueller probe is “a witch hunt,” Barr told senators he doesn’t agree with that line of thinking and indicated he respects Mueller.

Trump thrice accused Mueller of having conflicts of interest on Twitter last month, and separately alleged that the special counsel is “a much different man than people think.” 

Asked about Russia by Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseOvernight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals Hillicon Valley: Colonial Pipeline attack underscores US energy's vulnerabilities | Biden leading 'whole-of-government' response to hack | Attorneys general urge Facebook to scrap Instagram for kids Utah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote MORE (R-Neb.), Barr said he had “no reason to doubt the Russians attempted to interfere in our election” — a clearer judgment than Trump is prone to offer.

At times, Barr certainly placed careful caveats around his views. 

For example, in exchanges with Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden to go one-on-one with Manchin US, Iran signal possible breakthroughs in nuke talks How the United States can pass Civics 101 MORE (D-Del.), Barr said he would be enormously reluctant to fire Mueller at Trump’s behest — unless Trump was justified in doing so.

“Assuming there was no good cause,” he said, “I would not carry out that instruction.”

Caveats will concern Dems

Barr’s answers will not fully allay Democratic fears about some form of meddling with the Mueller investigation. The exchanges with Coons included an admission from Barr that “there is the possibility” that he would overrule Mueller on points of contention.

Barr notably did not commit to releasing Mueller’s full report, arguing that it could include details that could not be put into the public sphere.

“I will commit to providing as much information as I can, consistent with the regulations,” he told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

In other exchanges with Blumenthal, Barr left considerable leeway around whether he would protest if the president fired U.S. prosecutors in other cases.

“I would not stand by and allow an investigation to be stopped if I thought it was a lawful investigation,” he said, “but the president is free to fire the officials he’s appointed.”

That leaves a lot of wiggle room for Barr — more than enough to disconcert Democrats and other Trump critics.

Harris shines among 2020 hopefuls

The dynamics of the 2020 presidential race are already hitting Capitol Hill, almost two years before the election will take place.

At least three of the Democrats on Tuesday’s panel are potential candidates for their party’s nomination: Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisMcConnell: 'Good chance' of deal with Biden on infrastructure Democrat Nikki Fried teases possible challenge to DeSantis Pavlich: The border crisis Biden said we could afford MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Almost 20 advocacy groups team up to pressure Congress to pass health care bill for immigrants Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines MORE (N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar Klobuchar offers tribute to her father, who died Wednesday The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill MORE (Minn.).

Harris did herself the most good, her prosecutorial skills being deployed to sharp effect as they have been in previous hearings with attorney general nominee Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOne quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors Biden fills immigration court with Trump hires Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE, among others. Harris is a former San Francisco district attorney and was California’s attorney general before being elected to the Senate.

She broadened out the questioning from the Mueller probe to encompass disparate subjects such as Barr’s support for a border wall and his views on a war on drugs that Harris characterized as an “abject failure.”

Booker also took a different tack, talking about racial inequities in sentencing. But he did so in a more ponderous way than Harris’s rapid-fire style.

Klobuchar raised issues of ethics and recusal with Barr, but never really knocked him off his stride in doing so.

A star turn for Barr’s grandson

Barr’s 8-year-old grandson Liam Daly got plenty of attention from lawmakers and the media as he sat supporting his grandfather. 

The ranking Democrat, 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.), even handed down a care package for the young boy, while various senators made gently humorous suggestions about his future career path.

The attention given to Daly was perhaps evidence that the hearing delivered no bombshell news. But his star turn was capped when a Reuters photographer zoomed in on a note he had written for his grandfather.

“Dear grandpa, I love you so much. You are doing great so far,” the note began.