WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday advanced Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to be President Joe Biden's attorney general.
Garland's nomination was reported out of the Democratic-led committee in a bipartisan 15-7 vote.
Republicans Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking member of the committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina joined all Democrats on the panel in supporting the nomination.
The seven Republicans who voted against Garland were Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mike Lee of Utah, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Garland, 68, has been a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since 1997 and was its chief judge from 2013 to 2020. Republicans opted not to consider his nomination by former President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court in 2016.
Garland testified before the panel last week about how he would lead the Justice Department if he is confirmed by the Senate, reassuring senators that he would protect the department's independence and not allow politics to interfere with the job.
In comments before the vote, committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said, "America will be better with this kind of person leading the Justice Department."
Grassley said a moment later: "I plan to vote for him. I hope my trust is not misplaced."
Other Republicans were harsher. Cruz claimed that Garland "refused to answer virtually anything" during his confirmation hearings — an assertion that Durbin disputed.
Cornyn told reporters last week that Garland is "a straight shooter when it comes to questions of law." He said "he's had an incredible career" and "seems like a fundamentally decent human being."
Other Republicans on the committee, including some possible 2024 presidential contenders, like Hawley, were less enthusiastic and expressed strong reservations.
Garland emphasized that if he is confirmed, he would "supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government."
Garland, who helped investigate and prosecute the Oklahoma City bomber in the 1990s, said the Justice Department must do everything in its power to ensure that Americans and democratic institutions are protected from such extremists.
In response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Garland said he would not rule out investigating those who funded, organized, led and otherwise aided the attack on the Capitol.
"We begin with the people on the ground, and we work our way up to those who are involved and further involved, and we will pursue these leads wherever they take us," he said.
During his confirmation hearing last week, Garland stressed that he would protect the Justice Department from White House political interference. Former President Donald Trump's attorney general William Barr was frequently accused by federal judges and others of putting Trump's interests ahead of the department's.
When his nomination was announced in January, Garland said he would strive to make sure that "like cases are treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends, the other for foes."