The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Monday to advance President Joe Biden’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for attorney general, setting up his confirmation before the full Senate.
The vote was 15 to 7 with all Democratic senators and four Republicans in favor of the nominee.
Garland, the former chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, has been praised by members of both parties for his intellect and integrity. He pledged in his nomination hearing last month to “fend off any effort by anyone” to politically influence the Justice Department’s investigations, and that his first priority would be to fully prosecute the “heinous” crimes committed in the attack on the US Capitol on January 6.
“He’s a man of extraordinary qualifications,” said Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, on Monday. “His life has been dedicated to public service and advancing values that are vital to the Justice Department’s functioning, integrity, independence, fidelity to the rule of law, and a commitment to equal justice for all.”
Garland will face politically charged questions at the Justice Department, including how to handle a federal probe into Biden’s son Hunter Biden and whether the DOJ should wade into former President Donald Trump’s role in the riot at the Capitol. Garland also said in his hearing that he didn’t have “any reason to think” that special counsel John Durham “should not remain in place” to complete his investigation of the FBI’s Russia probe.
Garland also said he had not spoken to the President about his son’s case. Federal investigators in Delaware have been examining multiple financial issues, including whether Hunter Biden violated tax and money laundering laws in business dealings in foreign countries.
“The President made abundantly clear in every public statement before and after my nomination that decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department,” said Garland. “That was the reason that I was willing to take on this job.”
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, supported Garland, calling him an “honorable man” with a “big job” ahead of him to uphold the integrity of the department.
“It’ll be up to him to keep the Justice Department from turning into the social justice department,” said Grassley. “I take him at his word that this is not what he wants.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was one of seven Republicans to oppose Garland’s nomination. He argued that Garland wasn’t forthcoming in responding to questions on gun, immigration and other policies, and wouldn’t agree to an in-person meeting. Cruz said that the panel’s vote would set a precedent where an attorney general nominee could “essentially refuse to answer all questions” and the Senate majority would still confirm him or her. “That’s a precedent I predict will come back to haunt this committee,” said Cruz.
Durbin said that Garland responded to all of Cruz’s 127 written questions, and offered to meet with Cruz over Zoom due to the health concerns of the pandemic.
In March 2016, then-President Barack Obama nominated Garland to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans blocked his nomination, claiming that the public should vote for the next president to decide the lifelong appointment. Yet in September 2020, then-President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and on October 26, about a week before Election Day, she was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Before becoming a judge, Garland served under President Bill Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick and led the Justice Department investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Garland said at his hearing that the current threat from White supremacists is a “more dangerous period than we faced at that time.” He also gave a brief, yet emotional, anecdote in response to a question about his family history in confronting hate and discrimination. Garland fought back tears as he explained why leading the Justice Department was important to him.
“I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution,” said Garland. “The country took us in and protected us. I feel an obligation to the country to pay back.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.
CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Ted Barrett and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.