By Jeffrey May, J.D.
The nomination of Makan Delrahim to be Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division cleared another hurdle today. The nomination was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 19 to 1. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) was the lone no vote.
A busy morning in the Senate led to a quick vote for three nominees to fill Justice Department posts. Also approved were Noel J. Francisco to be Solicitor General and Steven A. Engel to be an Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel. However, the votes for these two individuals were divided along party lines.
Many senators voted by proxy as former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey was set to testify shortly after the Judiciary Committee's nomination hearing was set to begin. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, voted yes for Delrahim. Before heading off to the Comey hearing, Feinstein indicated her support for Delrahim’s nomination, noting her view that he "will fully and fairly enforce our antitrust laws."
After the roll call, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, expressed her continued concern about the Trump Administration’s "seeming inclination to meet with parties with mergers pending before the Antitrust Division." Prior to the inauguration, President Trump reportedly met with CEOs of companies that were parties to proposed mergers that required government approval. Expecting independence from the White House in Antitrust Division merger reviews, Klobuchar said that she would hold Delrahim to his commitment to the protocols that limit communications between the White House and Justice Department.
Today’s vote followed a number of stops and starts in the nomination process for Delrahim. Trump officially announced his intention to nominate Delrahim on March 28. A confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee set for late April was delayed at the last minute because the committee was missing some paperwork. On May 10, Delrahim finally had a brief opportunity to answer senate lawmakers' questions about his qualifications for the job. At that time, Delrahim suggested some possible changes at the Antitrust Division if he were confirmed. He said that he might consider having a deputy assistant attorney general focus on international issues. The nominee expressed concern that in some cases there might be protectionism or discrimination towards U.S. companies in the application of the antitrust laws by over 130 agencies around the world that are new to the antitrust regime. A deputy attorney general focused on international antitrust law would bring additional attention to this issue, he said.
A May 25 vote on the nomination also was rescheduled. During that meeting, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee's chairman, said that the Democrats had asked that the three Justice Department nominations be held over. Now, the full Senate must take up the nominations.
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