Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of William Barr for Attorney General. His nomination now moves to the Senate floor where, in all likelihood, Barr will be confirmed very soon.
The vote in the Judiciary Committee was 12-10. Every Democrat on the Committee voted against Barr.
This is the same William Barr whom the Senate confirmed unanimously three times during the Reagan-Bush years. The last of these times, when Barr was nominated to be Attorney General under Bush, the Judiciary Committee approved him by unanimous vote, and the full Senate confirmed him by a voice vote.
Barr was confirmed unanimously even though he testified that Roe v. Wade was incorrectly decided. Joe Biden, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, praised Barr for his candor. Biden added that Barr, who had been serving as Deputy Attorney General, as “a throwback to the days when we actually had attorneys general that would talk to you.”
This time around, Barr received no votes from Committee Democrats. In all likelihood, he will receive virtually no Democratic votes on the Senate floor.
Democrats will try to explain their negativity by citing the Mueller investigation. But Barr had nothing but praise for Mueller, and is a personal friend of the special counsel.
Barr testified that he doesn’t believe Mueller would engage in a witch hunt. Matthew Whitaker who is the acting Attorney General and will remain in the job if Barr is not confirmed, refused to deny that Mueller’s probe is a witch hunt.
It’s true that Barr made no categorical commitment to release Mueller’s report in its entirety. Instead, he promised to release as much of it as is permitted by law.
The Democrats weren’t satisfied with this answer. However, they cannot reasonably expect Mueller to violate the law, including applicable regulations. A promise to release more of the Mueller report than the law permits would be legitimate grounds for voting against Barr. A promise to release all that the law permits is not.
The Democrats’ unanimous opposition to Barr isn’t about Mueller, a personal friend of Barr. Rather, it’s the product of their resistance to President Trump. Indeed, any number of Trump appointees have been approved without any Democrat support or with virtually none.
Accordingly, the next time a Democrat is president, Republicans will be well within their rights unanimously to oppose his or her nominees. They should exercise this right freely, though not indiscriminately.
If Republicans happen to control the Senate, meaning that the nominee can’t be confirmed without some GOP votes, this should not deter them from saying no. I suspect it will deter a few GOP members, but it shouldn’t.