© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Panel holds a hearing for Attorney General Garland
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden's election as attorney general, Merrick Garland moved a step closer to being confirmed by the Senate as chief US law enforcement officer on Monday, with the Justice Committee putting its weight behind his nomination.
The federal appeals judge won bipartisan support on a 15-7 tally in the Senate Judiciary Committee to push his Senate nomination for a vote that Democrats hope will take place this week. Among the four Republicans who voted for Garland were two former committee chairs, Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham (NYSE :).
Garland was backed by the committee's Democrats, while seven Republicans voted no.
It is widely expected that the former federal attorney will receive an endorsement. The 2016 Republican-controlled Senate declined to consider Garland's appointment to the Democratic Supreme Court by Democratic President Barack Obama.
In this way, the Republicans enabled President Donald Trump to fill a position on the Supreme Court with a conservative judiciary in 2017.
68-year-old Garland has been nominated to head a Justice Department amid intense investigations into the January 6 attack by a group of Trump's supporters on the US Capitol – an incident Garland has described as "hideous". The rampage interrupted Congress formal confirmation of Democrat Biden's victory over Trump.
Garland has also pledged to revitalize the civil rights division of the division, which critics say was undermined during Trump's presidency for not defending the right to vote or investigating systematic abuses by police authorities.
Last week the Civil Rights Division said it was considering conducting hate crime investigations into the rising number of incidents against Asian Americans. Trump repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the "China plague" or "China virus".
Unlike former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, who told Congress last year he didn't believe systemic racism plagued the U.S. criminal justice system, Garland told lawmakers that the system doesn't treat all Americans equally.
On March 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee intends to hold a confirmation hearing for Lisa Monaco and Vanita Gupta, Biden's decision to work in Justice Department # 2 and # 3.
Kristen Clarke, nominated by Biden as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, is not yet scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing.
Civil rights groups, former prosecutors and some law enforcement groups have backed Gupta and Monaco's nominations – including the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which previously supported Trump.
Monaco is expected to have a chance at gaining Republican support.
But some conservative groups and Republicans have started to fight back against Gupta. Several Republican attorneys general wrote a letter to Biden on Monday asking him to withdraw Gupta's nomination, calling her a "radical candidate" who "advocates destructive measures that would disappoint the police".
Texas Republican John Cornyn, who voted for Garland on Monday, signaled he had concerns about supporting Gupta or Clarke.
"You don't have to look very far back in their respective records to find evidence that the Justice Department is all about politics," Cornyn said.
Garland has endorsed Gupta, calling her "a person of great integrity and experience dedicated to the Department's mission".
A White House ally told Reuters Monday that the attacks on Gupta had come from "blinded partisans" who never bothered to consult with law enforcement leaders like the FOP.