Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee began its public consideration of William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general. Senate Judiciary Democrats tried and failed to trip up Mr. Barr, who was professional, calm, and lawyerly throughout the hearing. He frequently declared that he would be an independent attorney general committed to the rule of law and the Constitution, as he was when he served as President George H.W. Bush's attorney general. The RNLA live-tweeted the hearing.
Here's a look back at what happened the last time the Senate considered him for the same job.
It was November 1991. An independent counsel was investigating the Bush administration. The Democrats had a 56 to 44 majority in the Senate, enough to delay or reject any nominees by Republican President Bush. The Senate and the country were still recovering from a brutal fight over the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
The previous two attorneys general, Ed Meese and Dick Thornburgh, were largely popular with conservatives but frequently criticized by the Democrats. President Reagan’s Attorney General Meese was confirmed 63 to 31 after his nomination was pending 13 months, receiving the most votes against an attorney general nominee since a nominee was rejected in 1925.
Both Meese and Thornburgh had conflicts with Congress over a variety of issues and investigations. The New York Times said the relationships of both “with Democrats in Congress were often distant and sometimes stormy,” and the Los Angeles Times said that relations with the Senate Judiciary Committee in particular were “often-stormy and strained.”
Lest we look on the past with rose-colored glasses, this was not a time of great bipartisan consensus or cooperation between the executive and legislative branches.
Yet Barr’s nomination was swift and uncontroversial. Less than a month after his nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 14 to 0 to approve the nomination, meaning eight Democrats, including Senators Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, and Patrick Leahy, voted in favor. Five days later, after a brief discussion, the full Senate confirmed him by unanimous voice vote because no Democrat requested even a roll call vote.
The Democratic senators not only supported Mr. Barr’s confirmation, but they also spoke glowingly of him, his character, and his qualifications. This included current Senator Patrick Leahy and then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden, as we described yesterday. Democratic Senator Fritz Hollings sounded like a member of the President's party when he agreed: “I intend to vote with enthusiasm to confirm William P. Barr as Attorney General. He is the right man for the job at the right time. Mr. Barr has a distinguished academic background and impressive experience in private practice as well as in public service. Most important, Bill Barr is a known quantity.”
Attorney General Bill Barr’s service under President George H.W. Bush fully confirmed the Democratic senators' prediction that he would be an independent voice serving all Americans with integrity and honor.
What has changed? President Trump, of course. Anyone nominated by President Trump has faced reflexive resistance, delay, and obstruction from the Democrats, even if they were uncontroversial, had bipartisan support in the final vote, or previously were nominated by President Barack Obama.
We can only hope that today's Democratic senators recognize that, though they may have policy disagreements with President Trump and Mr. Barr, Bill Barr possesses the qualifications and character to lead the Department of Justice even in a time of great political conflict.
His nomination to be attorney general was uncontroversial in 1991 and he was confirmed with broad, bipartisan support. It should be the same now.