5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Trump is failing on trade policy Trump holds call with Netanyahu to discuss possible US-Israel defense treaty 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 KavanaughSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration The crosshairs of extremism  New York City to end ban on gay conversion therapy to avoid Supreme Court fight 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 BidenEric Holder: Democrats 'have to understand' that 'borders mean something' Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight Biden says he'll release medical records before primaries MORE (Del.) — was cited by Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Houston debate Ted Cruz says he hopes to 'run again' for White House Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks 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) Swan MuellerFox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal 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 SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank The Hill's Morning Report - Trump ousts Bolton; GOP exhales after win in NC Trump endorses Sasse in 2020 race 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 CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocratic senator warns O'Rourke AR-15 pledge could haunt party for years Scalise says it's unclear if bipartisan deal on guns will happen Senate Democrat says he is working with Republicans on bipartisan gun legislation 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 Devi HarrisHarris keeps up 'little dude' attack on Trump after debate The crosshairs of extremism  On The Money: Democratic candidates lay into Trump on trade | China exempts US soybeans, pork from tariff hikes | Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerCastro attack shines spotlight on Biden's age CNN, NY Times to host next Democratic debate in October Poll: College students say Warren won third Democratic debate MORE (N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOn The Money: Democratic candidates lay into Trump on trade | China exempts US soybeans, pork from tariff hikes | Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure Overnight Energy: Harris goes after DOJ antitrust probe of automakers over emissions | Trump on energy-efficient light bulbs: 'I always look orange' | Climate change only briefly discussed in third presidential debate CNN, NY Times to host next Democratic debate in October 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 SessionsHouse Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe McCabe's counsel presses US attorney on whether grand jury decided not to indict US attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal 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 FeinsteinTrump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions This week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings GOP senators object to White House delaying home-state projects for border wall 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.