Iowa farmer leads Senate panel on high legal posts

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Posted: Jan 28, 2015 3:46 PM
Iowa farmer leads Senate panel on high legal posts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Senate's most enthusiastic tweeter, is steering the venerable Judiciary Committee into a brave new world.

The six-term Iowa Republican, 81, debuted as chairman Wednesday at the confirmation hearings on President Barack Obama's pick for attorney general, Loretta Lynch. Meanwhile, Grassley reported live from the podium: The hearing was "moving right along," Grassley tweeted just before lunch.

"Is that against the rules?" he asked later with a grin.

The committee rules these days are largely up to Grassley, the first nonlawyer to occupy the chairmanship of a panel that, among other responsibilities, considers the president's nominees for some the nation's highest legal posts. The administration's choices for judges and, perhaps, the Supreme Court, will come before Grassley's panel during the final two years of the Obama presidency.

It's a sweet development for the soybean-and-corn farmer. The very prospect of a Grassley chairmanship became a flashpoint during last year's midterm elections, when Iowa Democratic candidate Bruce Braley was videotaped telling a group of Texas lawyers that a Republican majority would mean "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law" would become Judiciary Committee chairman.

Braley apologized for the remark but lost to Republican Joni Ernst. Republicans won the Senate majority — and Grassley became chairman.

He may not be a lawyer, but Grassley is no stranger to the law, the committee or the politics that often roil its proceedings.

He's been a member of the panel since arriving in the Senate in 1981, giving him more than three decades of experience with questions of criminal and anti-terrorism law and making him a leading advocate for whistleblower protection. On Wednesday, he pointedly questioned Lynch over Obama's immigration policy. She responded by defending the president's executive order to shelter millions of immigrants from deportation though they live in the country illegally.

Over the years, Grassley also has watched colleagues with presidential ambitions use televised hearings for a bit of self-promotion. He's got two potential GOP presidential candidates on there now — Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas — and a third running for governor, Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter.

Grassley himself is up for re-election in 2016, but there's little chance he'll be unseated.

He'll have no problem with name recognition inside Iowa or out — thanks to his long tenure and prolific use of Twitter. For better or worse, Grassley himself does the tweeting on his iPhone.

He tweets about big items — Obama's State of the Union address, for example — and others, such as the assumed death of a deer hit by a friend's car. Grassley's also accidentally tweeted nonsense, or single symbols. Comedian Stephen Colbert has joked such dispatches amount to stream-of-consciousness poetry.

Grassley got high marks from his predecessor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chaired the committee until he handed the gavel to Grassley last week.

"He's doing great," Leahy said.