Even while in the minority on the panel, he scrutinized the Justice Department’s botched effort to track guns illegally shipped to Mexico.
“It’ll be full employment for a lot of lawyers in town who advise clients on Capitol Hill, and the White House counsel would have to staff up again,” Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said in a phone interview. Grassley is “especially into investigations of waste, fraud and abuse,” Manley said.
All Senate committee will be getting new leaders when Republicans take control of the Senate in January.
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As the Judiciary panel’s top Republican, Grassley used his staff to investigate the Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed illegal gun purchases in the U.S. in an effort to link the weapons to Mexican cartels.
Panel chairmen “have a tremendous amount of power,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and onetime aide to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. “They are akin to Mafia bosses, basically.”
Republicans gained at least seven Senate seats in the Nov. 4 election and expanded their House majority. For now, Democrats keep their 55-45 Senate control in the lame-duck session that begins today. Among the priorities for the session are funding the government after Dec. 11, reviving lapsed tax breaks and financing the fights against Ebola and Islamic State.
Grassley is in line to replace Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, as Judiciary chairman.
“Oversight is too often overlooked as Congress focuses on new legislation,” Grassley said in an e-mailed statement this week. “My goal is to promote transparency and accountability and restore the committee’s role as a true check on the massive and powerful federal bureaucracy.”
He’ll probably wield the gavel as senators question Loretta Lynch, Obama’s nominee to become attorney general, during confirmation hearings. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican set to be Senate majority leader, wants to delay Lynch’s confirmation vote until 2015.
On the Senate Budget committee, top Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama will probably become chairman, taking over from Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat.
Sessions is “not one who has in the past been bipartisan in his negotiating,” said Michele Swers, an associate government professor at Georgetown University in Washington.
Sessions said in a statement the “immediate emergency” facing Republicans is Obama’s “disastrous planned actions” on immigration. The president said last week he’ll act by year’s end to halt deportations for some undocumented immigrants if Congress doesn’t move to rewrite the law.