Sen. Lindsey Graham, perhaps best recently known for his explosive rant during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, is set to take over the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee — which has purview over everything from Supreme Court nominations to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Graham — who is currently among the most senior Republican lawmakers on the committee and a well-known Trump ally — is expected to become chair now that current Chair Chuck Grassley is leaving the role to lead the Finance Committee.
Graham’s ascent could have far-ranging implications as Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference continues to unfold, the White House nominates a new attorney general, and the GOP tries to push through even more of its judicial nominees in the coming term.
As Vox’s Andrew Prokop has written, Graham has grown increasingly cozy with the president and sought to build a stronger relationship with him after the two weathered an antagonistic back-and-forth during the 2016 presidential election. Graham’s efforts to do so have resulted in exceedingly vigorous public defenses of Trump and his policy priorities, including the notably aggressive speech in favor of Kavanaugh earlier this fall.
Ever since Graham and Trump apparently broke the ice in the spring of 2017, according to Bob Woodward’s book, Fear, the South Carolina senator has signaled that he’s willing to soften his approach on a range of issues tied to executive power.
While he once ardently opposed the departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he hardly batted an eye when it actually took place earlier this month. Just this week, he argued that there’s no need for Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to recuse himself when it comes to his oversight of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference.
While outgoing Chair Grassley has handled many Judiciary Committee efforts in a partisan way — conducting an unilateral request for Kavanaugh’s records without the backing of the Democrats and weakening tools for the minority to oppose judicial nominees, Graham’s potential position as the new chair ensures that this role could serve as an even more vocal mouthpiece for the White House.
Already he’s said he’d focus heavily on “oversight” of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, in his role as chair. As the Hill reports, Graham is interested in probing FBI bias in the agency’s review of Russian interference, not to mention taking a closer look at how the body handled its scrutiny of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
“If I am fortunate enough to be selected by my colleagues to serve as chairman, I will push for the appointment and Senate confirmation of highly qualified conservative judges to the federal bench and aggressive oversight of the Department of Justice and FBI,” Graham said in a Friday statement.
Graham has sponsored a bill intending to protect Mueller and recently said he still thinks it should be considered by the full Senate, even as he indicated that he doesn’t really see any major threats to the special counsel. His likely new role gives him an even bigger platform to champion — or downplay — such efforts.