(Reuters) – Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden‘s selection for attorney general, moved a step closer to securing Senate confirmation as the top U.S. law enforcement official on Monday as the Judiciary Committee threw its weight behind his nomination.
The federal appellate judge won bipartisan support in a 15-7 tally in the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance his nomination to the Senate floor for a vote that Democrats hope will be held sometime this week. Among the four Republicans voting in favor of Garland were two former chairmen of the committee, Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham.
He drew the support of the committee’s Democrats while seven Republicans voted no.
Garland was nominated to lead a Justice Department now in the midst of intensive investigations into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Republican former President Donald Trump’s supporters – an incident Garland has called “heinous.” The rampage interrupted the formal congressional certification of Biden’s election victory over Trump.
He has also pledged to reinvigorate the department’s Civil Rights Division, which critics have said was undermined during Trump’s presidency, failing to defend voting rights or open investigations into systemic abuses by police departments.
Last week, the Civil Rights Division said it is looking into whether to launch hate crime probes into the rising number of incidents targeting Asian-Americans. Trump repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as caused by the “China virus.”
Unlike former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee who told Congress last year he did not believe systemic racism plagued the U.S. criminal justice system, Garland testified that he believes the system does not treat all Americans equally.
Garland, a former federal prosecutor, is widely expected to win confirmation. The Senate in 2016, then controlled by Republicans, refused to consider Garland’s nomination by Democratic former President Barack Obama to the U.S. Supreme Court. By doing so, the Republicans enabled Trump in 2017 to fill a Supreme Court vacancy with a conservative justice.
On March 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee intends to hold a confirmation hearing for Lisa Monaco and Vanita Gupta, Biden’s choices to serve in the No. 2 and No. 3 top Justice Department jobs.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Sonya Hepinstall)