Sen. Lindsey Graham Could Rise on Judiciary Panel

South Carolina Republican could chair the committee if Charles Grassley of Iowa decides to replace Orrin Hatch of Utah as Finance Committee chairman. All of this may depend on whether Republicans maintain control of Senate in this year’s elections.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) could wind up a top Senate player as the investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign intensifies, McClatchy Newspapers reports. Graham could become the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican next year. This could happen if current chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa decides to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to succeed Orrin Hatch of Utah, who said Tuesday that he would retire this year. Graham, who is up for re-election in 2020, would have to straddle the line between being a collegial, bipartisan deal-maker — his reputation in the Senate — and asserting his hardline conservative bona fides to ward off primary challengers in his deep-red state. Graham had to play to both sides in his last reelection campaign in 2014, when he won with 54 percent.

Trump won South Carolina by nearly 14 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton. If Democrats retake control of the Senate and House next year and pursue impeachment proceedings, political life could get even stickier for Graham, who as a member of the House Judiciary Committee in the 1990s was a Senate floor manager for the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.  If Republicans lose their majority in the Senate next year and impeachment proceedings are in the offing, Grassley might want to keep his judiciary job. Also, if the GOP keeps its majority and Supreme Court retirements seem likely, Grassley might want to lead confirmation hearings for new justices.


MN Nettled by NRA Push for Interstate Gun Rights

The NRA’s mission to create a federal gun law authorizing so-called concealed carry reciprocity between states worries law enforcers. Mike Freeman, president of the National District Attorneys Association, said the law would amount to “a dive to the bottom” in oversight of guns. “It simply doesn’t make any public-safety sense,” he said.

Minnesotans who hold permits to carry concealed guns could soon be able to carry their firearms in all 50 states, a move advocates said would preserve the right to self-defense wherever people travel in the country, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. But law enforcement leaders in Minnesota and around the country are raising concerns that the proposal, which passed the U.S. House this month, could harm public safety and mean looser regulation of guns in states like Minnesota, with stricter permit requirements than other places. The measure’s prospects are less certain in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans lack the 60 votes needed to prevent Democrats from blocking its progress. But so-called concealed carry reciprocity is the top legislative priority for the NRA.

The proposal has put Republicans at odds with prosecutors around the country. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the president of the National District Attorneys Association, said most prosecutors — particularly those overseeing large urban areas — do not support conceal carry reciprocity “because it’s a dive to the bottom” in terms of oversight of guns. “It simply doesn’t make any public-safety sense,” Freeman said. The bill has divided Minnesota’s congressional delegation and put some members under political pressure. The issue hasn’t neatly divided along partisan lines. Some conservatives see the measure as an infringement on states’ rights.


Rep. Jerrold Nadler Elected Top Dem on Judiciary Panel

New Yorker would lead committee if the Democrats take over the House. The panel has jurisdiction over impeachments as well as criminal justice issues. Nadler defeated Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California to succeed John Conyers of Michigan.

House Democrats elected New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler as their next leader on the Judiciary Committee, the panel that would potentially initiate impeachment proceedings against President Trump if Democrats win back the House, Politico reports. Nadler won a decisive victory over Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca.), 118-72, on Wednesday morning. Lofgren, a former immigration lawyer, is the second-most senior member on the panel behind Nadler. “This is a pivotal time, with our country possibly on the verge of a constitutional crisis,” Nadler said in a speech before the vote “We cannot afford to make this choice based on anything but who is the best person to sit in that chair.” Nadler succeeds John Conyers, who left the House after allegations of sexual harassment.

Several Democrats spoke favorably of Nadler, citing his knowledge of constitutional law and leadership on criminal justice reform. “They gave me a script. I don’t need a script, because I know the man. We are in a fight for the soul of our democracy,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. “I can think of no one better to lead the House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee than Jerry Nadler.”


Conyers Leaves Judiciary Committee Post Pending Probe

While denying charges that he sexually harassed staff members, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) is temporarily leaving his longtime position as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) is stepping aside as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee pending an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, The Hill reports. “I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger. I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics,” he said. Conyers’s attorney had maintained that the lawmaker would not resign from the post as the House Ethics Committee investigates into the allegations.

The Ethics Committee opened an investigation into Conyers after BuzzFeed News reported that Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.” Other staffers alleged that he made requests for sexual favors, inappropriately touched staffers and used congressional resources to transport women that they believed he was having sexual relationships with at the time. After the report was published, another woman came forward with allegations that Conyers harassed and verbally abused her while she worked for him in the 1990s. It was not immediately clear who would replace Conyers. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, is now the second-ranking Democrat on the committee.


GOP Conservative Joins Black Caucus on Sentencing Reform

Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), chair of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, agrees with an unlikely ally, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), that federal sentencing reform should advance in Congress next year.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) wants the GOP-controlled Congress to move on long-stalled efforts to change federal sentencing laws next year, and he has enlisted a seemingly unlikely ally: The head of the Congressional Black Caucus, McClatchy Newspapers report. Walker, chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, is teaming with Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-LA).

The GOP group includes 17 House committee chairs. Richmond steers a group of 49 African-American lawmakers — 48 Democrats, one Republican (Mia Love of Utah) and two Democratic senators. Richmond and Walker say the criminal justice system harms families, particularly in communities of color, costs the federal government too much money, and does little to reduce recidivism. Walker said, “We felt that if the chairmen of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Republican Study Committee can come together on something, it may create enough attention to say ‘Okay, maybe this is bigger than the political lingo that you hear out of D.C. every week.’” Senators re-introduced a 2015 sentencing overhaul and corrections bill last month.


As Deadline Looms, Congress Eyes Patriot Act Fixes

By Dec. 31, Congress must decide whether to overhaul a controversial surveillance program that collects Americans’ emails, phone calls and texts without a warrant. “This law is supposed to be a tool to fight terrorist threats overseas,” says Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “Instead it’s being used as an end-run around the Constitution.”

Congress must decide by year’s end whether to overhaul a controversial surveillance program that collects the content of Americans’ emails, phone calls, text messages and other electronic communication without a warrant, says USA Today. “This law is supposed to be a tool to fight terrorist threats overseas; instead it’s being used as an end-run around the Constitution,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Wyden has promised to put a hold on any bill that allows the government to continue spying on Americans without a search warrant. The program, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was approved by Congress in 2008 to increase the government’s ability to track and foil foreign terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It was designed to spy on foreign citizens living outside the U.S. and specifically bars the targeting of American citizens or anyone residing in the U.S. But critics say the program also sweeps up the electronic data of innocent Americans who may be communicating with foreign nationals, even when those foreigners aren’t suspected of terrorist activity. The government calls this “incidental surveillance,” and intelligence officials have so far refused to tell Congress how many unknowing Americans have had their personal data collected. The law is set to expire at the end of December, leaving it to Congress to either renew the program as it is or make changes to strengthen privacy and constitutional protections. The House Judiciary Committee is working to come up with a bipartisan reform bill that would allow legitimate surveillance of foreigners overseas to continue while better protecting Americans’ civil liberties.