Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is poised to become the GOP point-man on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he promises his top priority will be to push through President Trump’s court nominations.
While Mr. Graham’s post will have to be ratified by senators next year, his path to the chairmanship cleared up after the current committee chief, Sen. Chuck Grassley, said Friday he’ll take over the Senate Finance Committee in the new Congress.
Mr. Grassley has earned a reputation as a hard-nosed advocate for the president’s judicial picks, and Mr. Graham has vowed an even more aggressive approach, after having become enraged over how Democrats treated Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“If I am fortunate enough to be selected by my colleagues to serve as chairman, 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,” Mr. Graham said Friday afternoon.
Those are the sorts of issues that also are likely to appeal to South Carolina conservatives, a population Mr. Graham needs as he prepares a re-election bid in 2020.
“If he is successful in pushing through appointments, he might even get the president to personally endorse him, which would play well in South Carolina,” said Robert Henry Cox, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina.
That would complete a major transition for the two men, who sparred as presidential candidates in 2016 but have since forged a powerful partnership.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said she expects to find areas of agreement with Mr. Graham.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said he thinks the South Carolina Republican would be a “distinguished chair.”
Whether that reflects true feelings, Senate collegiality or fear of angering the incoming chairman, those bipartisan sentiments are not shared by liberal advocacy groups.
“Sen. Graham’s theatrics during the Kavanaugh hearings were reprehensible,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, adding that Republicans maltreated Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who came forward to claim the judge attempted to rape her at a high school house party in the 1980s.
No contemporaneous corroborating evidence was found, and people Ms. Blasey Ford cited as witnesses refuted her claims. Yet her allegations exposed deep divisions, and she remains a rallying cry for the left.
“I think the way in which he horribly and so disrespectfully dismissed Dr. Ford’s allegations and the threatening tone he used against the Democrats — his colleagues who were doing their job — was just really frightening,” Ms. Baker said.
Mr. Graham, one of only a handful of GOP senators to vote for President Obama’s two Supreme Court picks, said he was stunned that only one Democrat backed both of President Trump’s picks.
He said the treatment of Justice Kavanaugh was a major turning point.
“If I am chairman next year I will remember this,” Mr. Graham vowed during the committee’s vote on the nominee. “There’s the process before Kavanaugh and the process after Kavanaugh. If you want to vet the nominee, you can. If you want to delay things until after the election, you cannot. If you try to destroy somebody, you will not get away with it.”
He later told radio show host Hugh Hewitt that as chairman, he will not allow Democrats to turn the “blue slip” process, a courtesy that allows senators to stymie a president’s judicial nominations from their states.
With Mr. Grassley leading the charge, the Senate has confirmed 84 federal judges. There are more than 136 federal judiciary vacancies, giving Mr. Graham plenty of room for action.
Beyond judges, the Judiciary Committee is ground zero for immigration debates, Mr. Trump’s new push for sentencing and prison reforms, and all things having to do with the Justice Department and the FBI, which are facing criticism over their investigations of the 2016 campaign.
“There are a lot of things we can do on that committee in a bipartisan fashion,” Mr. Graham said Sunday on NBC News.