On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first day of confirmation hearings for attorney general nominee William Barr. It’s the second time that the 68-year-old Barr has been in this position, having served as President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general from 1991 to 1993.
Overall, the hearing was significantly less action-packed than the last high-profile confirmation hearing that the committee held for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The fact that Barr has already held the job blunted a lot of possible opposition to his fitness for the position.
Nevertheless, there were a few notable moments in an otherwise uneventful confirmation hearing.
1) Barr made it clear that he agreed to accept the nomination because he believes in public service. He also said that he’s reached a point in his career (that is, nearing the end of it) where he doesn’t have to worry about a lot of the political or public image problems that might cloud his judgement.
2) He says that he has no plan to get in the way of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into supposed collusion in President Trump’s 2016 campaign and plans to make as much of its findings as public as possible. However, much to the frustration of some committee Democrats, he would not commit to recusing himself from the investigation.
3) He repeatedly said that, despite what DOJ ethics officials recommend, that decision is ultimately up to the head of the agency. When asked if there were a scenario where he would ignore the recommendations of DOJ ethics officials as attorney general he said, “If I disagreed with it.”
4) During the committee, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., got snarky. He not-so-subtly called out some of his Democratic colleagues when he asked Barr if Barr’s Catholic faith ought to be a disqualifier from holding the office. Recently, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, drew criticism from both sides of the aisle for comments made about a judicial nominee’s membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.
5) Barr believes in border security. Multiple times during the hearing, the nominee noted not only that he would work to get illegal immigration under control as AG, but that one thing he believes would be helpful in doing so would be a “barrier system” along the southern border.
6) Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is now the committee chairman, and he’s got some jokes. After Barr introduced members of his family, many of whom have sought legal careers in public service, Graham jokingly implored Barr’s grandson Liam to “consider medical school,” because “someone in your family needs to make money.” Later, when Barr noted that he once gave President Trump his phone number after a meeting, Graham said, “Well, I tried that once,” referring to when then-candidate Trump outed Graham’s cell phone number on the campaign trail in 2015.
7) Committee Democrats still tried for a few gotcha moments. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., lectured the nominee and implied that it was racist to even mention violent crime in Chicago. Kamala Harris tried to corner him on recusal and border security, and Hirono tried to convince him to recuse himself because of “everything you have done to get President Trump to nominate you.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked whether or not he would try to jail journalists.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned last year, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has been running things at the DOJ and will do so until a long-term replacement is confirmed and sworn in. There’s no word yet on when the committee plans to vote on the nomination.