Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who guided the confirmations of two of President Donald Trump’s picks to shape a conservative U.S. Supreme Court, will relinquish the highly visible chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee next year and instead lead the Finance Committee, he said Friday.
His move clears the way for Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has transformed from one of Trump’s critics to one of his fiercest allies, to take the helm of the Judiciary Committee and yield influence over the Justice Department and perhaps usher through more Supreme Court nominees.
“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,” tweeted Graham on Friday in saying what he’d do if he got the position.
With midterm elections over and reorganization underway for when the next Congress convenes in January, the seven-term Iowa Republican this week was nominated as Senate president pro tempore, which includes ceremonial duties but also puts him third in line under the Constitution for presidential succession.
At the time of that announcement, Grassley, 85, said he was undecided whether he wanted to lead Judiciary or Finance. But Friday, he announced his decision to opt for Finance, which he had led twice before.
He said he would focus on additional tax cuts, exports and improving health care.
“The economy is better than it’s been in years and there’s a sense of optimism about the future of our country that people haven’t felt in a long time thanks to the pro-growth policies of a Republican President and a Republican majority in Congress,” Grassley said in a statement. “Looking ahead, at the Finance Committee, I want to continue to work to make sure that as many Americans as possible get to experience this good economy for themselves.”
If Graham is put in the Judiciary post, he could wind up overseeing the confirmation of new Supreme Court justices. Two are over 80, making the possibility of at least one vacancy in the next two years more likely than not.
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Graham — who, like Trump is up for reelection in 2020 — for years had been seen by Democrats as one of the go-to Republicans they could work with. But the senator in recent weeks has signaled he may no longer be that figure.
He emerged from Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings convinced the other party was willing to break the rules to prevent the nominee from being seated.
“Boy, do you all want power,” Graham said to Democrats during the Kavanaugh hearings. “God, I hope you never get it.”
While Democrats did not gain control of the Senate, they did of the House starting in January. House Democrats are certain to launch investigations of Trump or his White House allies.
Graham’s commitment to helping the president could be tested in how he navigates the inevitable controversies surrounding the White House special counsel’s investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 elections.
Graham repeatedly has said special counsel Robert Mueller should be able to complete his work. At one point, he suggested it was unnecessary to advance legislation to protect Mueller from being fired, but is now suggesting an openness to passing the bill.
As chair of the Judiciary Committee since 2015, Grassley famously refused to schedule a Supreme Court confirmation hearing for federal Judge Merrick Garland, who was then-President Barack Obama’s pick.
After Trump was elected, Grassley did schedule a hearing for the new president’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
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Then earlier this year, he oversaw the contentious confirmation of Kavanaugh, who ultimately was approved despite allegations of sexual assault and misconduct in his high school years.
Grassley also, as Judiciary chairman, has presided over a vast remake of the federal judiciary.
The GOP-controlled Senate has approved appellate court judges for lifetime appointment at a rapid pace, setting a record for the most confirmed during a president’s first two years.
The GOP is installing jurists favored by conservatives who are likely to influence decisions on immigration, voting rights, abortion and the environment for decades.
Reuters, the McClatchy Washington Bureau and the Washington Post contributed to this report.