by Bob Barr
A question heard often in politics is, “what have you done for me lately.” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, less than one year into his long-awaited chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, may be hearing echoes of that refrain as he faces criticism of his leadership from within his own caucus.
Graham, who is universally acclaimed in the GOP as having virtually single-handedly resurrected the Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh last fall, now is being chastised by some of his colleagues for failing to more aggressively move a conservative agenda through his committee. A review of Graham’s freshman year as Judiciary chair belies such criticism, but if permitted to go unchallenged, it could cut short his tenure at the helm of this key committee.
For starters, Republicans should not lose sight of Graham’s pivotal role ensuring that President Trump’s nominees for U.S. district courts and the all-important federal courts of appeals, move expeditiously through his committee and to the Senate floor for votes. Since being handed the Judiciary Committee gavel from outgoing Chairman Chuck Grassley in January, some 100 federal judges — all strong constitutionalists — have been confirmed by the committee.
While critics may argue that any Republican serving as committee chair could have orchestrated such confirmations, from my vantage point as a long-serving member of the House Judiciary Committee, the Senate chairman plays an essential role in the confirmation process. In this regard, Graham has been relentless in making sure Trump’s judicial nominees do not languish in his committee. He deserves praise, not scorn.
Regarding the question of social media, another hot-button issue that has come before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham has taken on Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg with assertiveness shown by far too few of his Republican colleagues in either House. The senator’s pointed grilling of Zuckerberg forced the young billionaire to admit publicly that Facebook has no direct competitors and little, if any, ability to self-regulate — both crucial concessions in any potential future anti-trust action against the social media giant.
It is, however, in the context of standing up to Big Hollywood that Graham has perhaps shone the brightest. He has regularly stood against the west coast-based entertainment industry that for years has tried — often successfully — to rig the free market to advance their anti-consumer financial interests. In this battle, Graham has even crossed swords with the current U.S. Department of Justice; something many Republicans are loathe to do.
For reasons not exactly clear, the Antitrust Division has been lukewarm at best in holding the music industry’s feet to the fire. Look no further than what it is currently doing to the anti-trust decrees agreed to by the industry to prevent these entertainment industry monopolies from continually raising prices on music consumers. In an apparent move to humor the music industry, the division is engaging in an investigation of these decrees, which DOJ decided should not be modified in 2016 after an exhaustive two-year analysis.
Rather than ignore such a move by the government — as some politicians beholden to the industry would do and have done — Graham wrote to the department. He asserted his committee’s oversight power to ensure the nation’s anti-trust laws are enforced against the entertainment industry, and that it not cruise by with its historically cozy relationship with the feds.
Of course, and in the context of impeachment, Graham has exhibited backbone in short supply among many of his congressional colleagues. He has taken the lead in calling out the impeachment effort now moving forward in the House exactly what it is — a fraud. Graham has gone so far as to assert the Senate might not even hold a trial in the Senate if the House in fact impeaches Trump along its current path. It appears Graham’s aggressiveness in this regard has raised the fighting spirit of Republicans in the Senate and the House.
Thus, while some in the Senate Republican caucus may be pressing for Grassley to replace Graham as Judiciary chair in 2021 if the GOP holds the majority in next year’s crucial election, as things now stand, President Trump and his agenda have no better champion in that key post than the incumbent firebrand from South Carolina (itself a key primary state next year).