Republican Sen. Mike Lee suggested the President pick federal judge Merrick Garland as the next FBI director, a surprising recommendation following Republican efforts to block Garland from a seat on the Supreme Court last year.
“Instead of a special prosecutor, @realDonaldTrump should nominate Merrick Garland to replace James Comey,” Lee tweeted Thursday.
While he didn’t mention it in his tweet, such a move would also open a highly coveted seat on the DC Circuit, where Garland currently serves as the chief judge.
The Utah senator is a member of the Senate judiciary committee, which refused to hold a hearing on Garland when President Barack Obama tapped him to replace the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016.
Lee pitched the idea to Trump’s advisers when he was at the White House on Wednesday, according to an aide. While the reason for his White House visit was unrelated — it was to discuss tax reform — he did bring up Garland as a possible FBI director separately, underscoring that the conservative senator is very serious about the idea.
Republicans, who hold a majority in the Senate, kept the seat vacant until a new president was sworn in — a strategy that proved worthwhile for their party when Trump won the election.
Trump later nominated Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed in the face of intense anger from Democrats still fuming over the blocking of Garland.
Democrat Amy Klobuchar, another senator on the judiciary committee, responded to Lee’s tweet Thursday, saying Garland, a former prosecutor, would be a “great idea” for the FBI. She also called for a special prosecutor.
However, some Democrats expressed skepticism about the idea.
After the way the Senate treated Merrick Garland, I hope this isn’t some idea of consolation prize,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, told reporters.
“I doubt that he would consider it,” he added. “He’s the chief judge of the DC Circuit Court.”
Other senators including Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Joe Manchin expressed support for the choice.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said he liked the idea of creating vacancy on the DC Circuit.
“So maybe I, maybe I like it better the more I think about it,” he told reporters.
Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, also perked up when realizing that a seat on the DC Circuit would open up.
“You’re getting my attention,” he told reporters.
Later Thursday, Lee told reporters he thinks Garland is someone who could probably get votes on “both sides of the aisle.” He also praised Garland as someone with a strong law enforcement background and extensive experience as a federal prosecutor.
“I think he fits that bill,” he said. “There are other people who would also. But he certainly does.”
Asked if he thinks the President will be opened to his idea, he shrugged his shoulders and said: “We’ll see.”
In the wake of the Comey’s firing from the FBI, some senators from both sides of the aisle have been calling for a replacement who can win bipartisan support.
The President’s nominee, however, only needs a simple majority of 51 votes to be confirmed in the Senate, which already has a 52-48 Republican majority.