Lindsey Graham under fire for blocking Merrick Garland: Does this sound familiar?

Using "last vestiges of power," Graham stalls Biden's nomination of Merrick Garland in bizarre replay of 2016

Published February 3, 2021 6:15AM (EST)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), listens during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee reviewing coronavirus response efforts on September 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images))
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), listens during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee reviewing coronavirus response efforts on September 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images))

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Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham was accused Tuesday of exercising "the last vestiges of power" by obstructing — again — U.S. Senate confirmation of Merrick Garland.

President Joe Biden last month tapped Garland — whose 2016 nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was blocked by the then-Republican controlled Senate — to be U.S. attorney general.

Graham, R-S.C., is able to exert the control over the new nomination even though his party no longer controls the chamber, as Politico explained Monday:

The dispute over Garland's confirmation hearing is the latest complication of the 50-50 Senate. While Democrats control the Senate, party leaders have yet to finalize an organizing resolution that will determine the committees for the upper chamber. Until the organizing resolution is approved, Republicans like Graham still hold committee gavels from the previous Congress.

As such, Graham still chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee; Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois is the committee's incoming chair.

In a letter to Graham on Monday, Durbin wrote that "there is simply no justification for delaying Judge Garland's hearing any further." Durbin called for a hearing on Feb. 8, a timing he said would align with Republican requests that the hearing not coincide with former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Durbin wrote, in part:

On January 6, then-President-elect Biden alerted both Democratic and Republican committee members and staff that he would nominate Judge Garland as the nation's next attorney general. Given the attorney general's role as the nation's top law enforcement officer, this committee should promptly consider attorney general nominees as a general practice. But the events of January 6 — when armed insurrectionists attacked the Capitol, killed Officer Brian Sicknick, injured dozens of other law enforcement officers, and threatened the lives of lawmakers and staff — made even clearer the need to quickly process Judge Garland's nomination.

Graham rejected the request.

Responding to Durbin, Graham asserted that the request was "highly unusual" and that Democrats want to "rush through Judge Garland's hearing" while the impeachment trial "requires the Senate's complete focus."

"Democrats do not get to score political points in an unprecedented act of political theater on one hand while also trying to claim the mantle of good government on the other," said Graham.

Writing at MaddowBlog, Steve Benen pointed to Republican senators' "unprecedented blockade" of Garland's Supreme Court nomination five years ago, observing that Graham joined that effort, "refusing to even give Garland the courtesy of a meeting."

And now, Benen wrote, "the GOP senator is managing to mishandle a Garland nomination for the second time." Benen suggested that Graham "apparently has a knack for leaving Merrick Garland hanging."

Graham's fresh blockade also drew criticism from Mairead Lynn, spokesperson for the government watchdog group Accountable.US's Senate War Room campaign.

"Since apparently it wasn't enough for Senate Republicans to refuse Merrick Garland a hearing when he was nominated to the Supreme Court — now they are delaying his hearing to head up the Justice Department," Lynn said in a statement.

She blamed Republicans who "sat on their hands during the lame-duck" session for the chamber's delays on Biden's agenda and called it "ridiculous that Sen. Graham is now holding onto the last vestiges of power to delay the confirmation of the administration's top law enforcement official."

"It's well past time for this obstruction to end," Lynn said, "and if Sen. Graham refuses to work in good faith to quickly confirm President Biden's highly qualified nominees, then it's time for him to step aside and let more serious legislators get to work."

By Andrea Germanos

Andrea Germanos is a senior editor and staff writer at Common Dreams.

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