Republicans hold Biden nominees hostage over Trump's impeachment

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They're recycling excuses from the first impeachment trial to block Judge Merrick Garland's confirmation hearing.

Republicans are back to using Donald Trump's impeachment as an excuse to stonewall President Joe Biden's nominees and hold up critical legislative actions — a tactic they employed during Trump's first impeachment trial.

Trump is facing a second impeachment trial for inciting a deadly riot on Jan. 6, after egging on supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol and stop Congress from certifying Biden's Electoral College victory.

Republicans argue that they cannot multitask — hold a trial and host Biden's nominees at the same time — meaning Biden's pick for attorney general, Judge Merrick Garland, may not get a confirmation hearing for weeks.

"It can't be during the impeachment," Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the Hill, claiming that a trial would be an "impediment" to confirming nominees.

According to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester (MT), who also spoke to the Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was adamant about not carrying out nominations during the impeachment trial.

Tester added that McConnell (R-KY) is blocking hearings on the floor for Biden's nominees for two weeks until the Senate recess the following week. Based on this timeline, Garland's confirmation could be delayed until at least the last week of February, the publication noted.

As Politico noted Monday, although Democrats control the upper chamber with a simple majority, "party leaders have yet to finalize an organizing resolution that will determine the committees," meaning that "until the organizing resolution is approved, Republicans...still hold committee gavels from the previous Congress."

Outgoing Judiciary Chair Sen. Lindsey Graham on Monday similarly cited Trump's impeachment trial while rejecting a request from incoming Chair Dick Durbin to hold Garland's confirmation hearing next week.

"An impeachment is no small thing. It requires the Senate's complete focus," Graham (R-SC) wrote in a letter to Durbin (D-IL). "The reason we can't give Judge Garland two days [for his hearing] next week is ... former President Trump's impeachment trial on February 9."

The Republican argument to delay Garland's hearing bears a striking similarity to the one they employed during Trump's first impeachment inquiry in 2019, which ultimately ended with the Senate acquitting Trump of abuse of power for his role pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, in the weeks that followed.

Senate Republicans claimed then that their inability to legislate was due to the House impeaching Trump over the quid pro quo pressure campaign, rather than McConnell's refusal to take up any House-passed legislation whatsoever.

As far back as September 2019, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) suggested that impeachment stood in the way of passing gun legislation, telling Politico, "I'm hoping that these things can be compartmentalized. ... But I acknowledge that a lot of clamoring for impeachment is not helpful, [and makes] it more difficult."

Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) told the outlet that impeachment talk "sets a negative tone and stage for doing a lot of other things," calling legislative action on background checks a "lost opportunity."

The Senate never took up any meaningful gun legislation, despite those remarks.

Braun also blamed impeachment for preventing efforts on health care, saying it "will eat up the lot of energy" for "other things that I think the public is interested in our addressing."

"The Democrats’ obsession with defeating President Trump ... is now threatening the federal government’s ability to focus," Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said then.

As with gun reform, the Senate also never passed any legislation to address health care, something Biden and congressional Democrats have since pledged to do.

Experts who spoke to the American Independent Foundation acknowledged that Republicans are likely able to delay Garland's attorney general confirmation hearing for several weeks.

"Ultimately, I don't believe that they would permanently block the confirmation," Ben Olinsky, the Center for American Progress's senior vice president for Policy and Strategy, said over the phone.

"It really feels like playing with politics to try to delay his confirmation," he added. "...This is an extension of the efforts by many in the Trump administration to block [Biden's transition]."

Olinsky emphasized that the stalemate over Garland was particularly damaging. Having an attorney general, he said, is crucial to the nation as it faces "a number of challenges," including national security, racial strife, and investigations into the Capitol insurrection.

"We saw the incredible politicization ... of the Department of Justice that really requires quick action to address and reverse," he said. "This is really critical to make sure that the United States is on strong footing and ready to deal with any crises as they come."

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said in an email that Democrats and Republicans could "try to strike a deal to do other business in the mornings on impeachment days," but, she cautioned, "that takes agreement between the caucuses."

Durbin, for his part, told the Hill this week that he is trying to strike up such a deal with the soon-to-be ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

"I'm going to see if Sen. Grassley and I can reach an agreement," he said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.