Sen. Chuck Grassley opts for Finance Committee chairman, setting up Sen. Lindsey Graham to lead Judiciary Committee

  • Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said Friday that he wants to serve as the leader of the Senate Finance Committee in the new Congress
  • The move puts Sen. Lindsey Graham directly in line to become the next Judiciary Committee chairman.
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch, who currently leads the Finance Committee, says that the Senate Finance Committee "will be in good hands with Senator Grassley at the helm."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) talks with reporters as he heads for a meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2018 in Washington, DC. 
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) talks with reporters as he heads for a meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2018 in Washington, DC. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced Friday that he wants to serve as the leader of the Senate Finance Committee in the new Congress — a move that puts Sen. Lindsey Graham directly in line to become the Judiciary Committee chairman.

"Looking ahead, at the Finance Committee, I want to continue to work to make sure that as many Americans as possible get to experience this good economy for themselves," Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement from his office.

Graham, an ally of President Donald Trump, would be poised as chairman of the Judiciary Committee to usher Trump's judicial nominees through to their final votes on the Senate floor. And he could potentially be tasked with overseeing the nomination of Supreme Court justices if any of the nine high-court judges — two of whom are over 80 years old — retire or die while Graham is chairman.

Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement, "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."

He added: "Finally, I will continue to seek common sense, bipartisan solutions to major issues facing our nation."

In terms of seniority, Graham is technically third in line in the Judiciary Committee majority's rankings. But the No. 2 lawmaker, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is retiring at the end of his current term.

Hatch, who currently leads the Finance Committee, said in a statement that the Senate panel "will be in good hands with Senator Grassley at the helm."

He added: "Chuck has a proven history of leadership at the committee and knows the ins and outs of its sprawling jurisdiction. I am confident Chairman Grassley will carry out a robust agenda that will build on tax reform's recent success and continue to make progress in the health care, trade and oversight spaces."

Senate committee leaders are elected before the start of each new Congress by the majority party's conference.

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivers remarks about Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh during a mark up hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. 
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivers remarks about Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh during a mark up hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. 

Graham has already made a splash on the Judiciary Committee. He quickly stood out as the most passionate defender of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during that politically fraught confirmation process, when multiple women came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.

Kavanaugh strongly denied all the allegations, and both he and one of his accusers, professor Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Judiciary Committee in September.

Graham had lashed out at the Democratic members on the committee, accusing them of attempting a "wholesale character assassination" against Kavanaugh.

"If you vote no," Graham warned his GOP colleagues at the time, "you are legitimizing the most despicable thing I've ever seen in my time in politics."

Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court and sworn in in early October — an outcome for which Graham received ample credit on both sides of the aisle.

Republicans strengthened their majority control of the Senate after the midterm elections last week. Democrats, however, won a majority stake in the House, which will flip the committee leadership roles in that chamber.

The next Congress will convene in January.