WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate has confirmed Merrick Garland to be the next U.S. attorney general with a bipartisan vote, placing the widely-respected, veteran judge in the post.
Democrats have praised Garland, a federal appeals court judge, as a highly qualified and honorable jurist. Many Republicans praised him as well, saying he has the right record and temperament for the moment. The vote was 70-30.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell — who prevented Garland from becoming a Supreme Court Justice in 2016 when he blocked his nomination — said he was voting to confirm Garland because of “his long reputation as a straight shooter and a legal expert” and that his “left-of-center perspective” was still within the legal mainstream.
“Let’s hope our incoming attorney general applies that no-nonsense approach to the serious challenges facing the Department of Justice and our nation,” McConnell said.
At his confirmation hearing in February, Garland sought to assure lawmakers that the Justice Department would remain politically independent on his watch.
Garland will also inherit immediate political challenges, including an ongoing criminal tax investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter. His confirmation also comes amid calls from many Democrats to pursue inquiries into Trump.
Separately, Garland will also be responsible for overseeing a special counsel investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, which shadowed Trump’s presidency for more than two years. Garland will have to decide how to handle it and what to make public.
An experienced judge, Garland held senior positions at the Justice Department decades ago, including as a supervisor in the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which led to the execution of Timothy McVeigh.
The department’s priorities and messaging are expected to shift drastically in the Biden administration, with a focus more on civil rights issues, criminal justice overhauls and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests against law enforcement.
That expected shift prompted some Republicans to oppose Garland’s nomination, including Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who said he believed the judge would be too soft on criminals and immigrants and “empower left wing radicals embedded inside the department.”
At his confirmation hearing, Garland emphasized his commitment to combating racial discrimination in policing, telling senators that said America doesn’t “yet have equal justice.” He also said he’d prioritize confronting the rise in extremist violence and domestic terror threats.
The Senate also confirmed Marcia Fudge to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, placing the longtime Ohio lawmaker in charge of the agency.
Fudge, who has represented parts of Cleveland and Akron in the House since 2008, is a former mayor and a longtime advocate for assistance for the needy. She said at her confirmation hearing in January that her first priority would be protecting the millions of people who have fallen behind on rent or mortgages due to loss of income during the pandemic, telling senators that “we cannot afford to allow people in the midst of a pandemic to be put in the streets.”
Her confirmation, 66-34, comes as the Senate is approving a slate of President Joe Biden’s nominees. The Senate is expected vote on North Carolina regulator Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency as soon as Wednesday evening.
Fudge won bipartisan support for her nomination, including from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he would support her and Garland.
“These aren’t the nominees that any Republican would have picked for these jobs,” McConnell said ahead of the vote. “But the nation needs presidents to be able to stand up a team so long as their nominees are qualified and mainstream.”
Meanwhile, McConnell said he will oppose Regan’s nomination and also New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to be interior secretary. He said the two nominees both support “far-left policies that crush jobs” in his state and across the country.
Regan and Haaland “both report straight to the front lines of the new administration’s left-wing war on American energy” and would “unbalance the balancing act between conservation and the economic comeback we badly need,” McConnell said.
He cited Regan’s support for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, and Haaland’s support for the Green New Deal, a far-reaching, if nonbinding set of proposals to address climate change and reduce economic inequality.
Timing for a vote on Haaland’s nomination has not been set.
Republicans who opposed Fudge’s nomination argued that she was also out of the mainstream. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey criticized some of Fudge’s past comments about Republicans, saying they could have a “toxic and detrimental impact on the working relationship that ought to be a constructive relationship” between Congress and the Biden administration.
Toomey referenced a statement Fudge made last year when GOP senators moved to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg after blocking Obama’s nominee — Garland, now up for attorney general — four years earlier. Republicans had argued in 2016 that Garland’s nomination shouldn’t be considered months ahead of a presidential election.
Fudge at the time called Senate Republicans “a disgrace to this nation” and said they “have no decency, they have no honor, they have no integrity.”
At her confirmation hearing, Fudge did not walk back any of her previous statements but described herself as “one of the most bipartisan members in the House of Representatives.”
Democrats argued that Fudge’s experience was right for the times. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who lives in Fudge’s district, noted that parts of the area suffered a disproportionate number of foreclosures before the economic crisis a decade ago.
“She knows how for decades, communities have watched as factories closed, investment dried up, and storefronts were boarded over,” Brown said. “And she knows how many neighborhoods and towns have never had the investment they should – because of discrimination, because of redlining, because of decades of policy that funneled resources and jobs away from Black and brown communities.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Fudge “has a difficult job ahead of her” as millions of American renters are behind on payments and millions of homeowners are in forbearance.
“At the same time, we are on the verge of passing major assistance for renters and for homeowners,” Schumer said, just ahead of expected House passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. “As the incoming Secretary, I know Rep. Fudge will implement that assistance with alacrity.”