Leahy caves (a little)

LEAHY CAVES (A LITTLE)…. Several Republican senators complained bitterly last week about a scheduled Judiciary Committee hearing on Eric Holder’s nomination as the next Attorney General. The GOP said it needed more time to review Holder’s record, but as a practical matter, Republicans appeared to want more time to coordinate their attacks. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), at least first, blew them off.

The bad news is, Leahy announced today that he’s giving Republicans an extension, accommodating their demands. The good news is, Leahy isn’t giving them much.

In an announcement from his Senate office on Monday afternoon, committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said the hearings would be moved back from January 9 to January 15, giving Republicans more than “30 days from today” to consider Holder’s qualifications.

“…[T]o accommodate the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, at their request we are delaying the hearing, again, until January 15,” read Leahy’s statement. “The Assistant Republican Leader said last year that ‘attorney general nominees have been confirmed, on average, in approximately three weeks.’ Nonetheless, in order to accommodate the Republicans members, I am rescheduling the hearing on Mr. Holder for twice that long, until more than six weeks after his official designation. It is disappointing to me that they are insisting that we delay at a time when the nation needs its top law enforcement officer and national security team in place and working.”

That three-week standard was, fortunately enough, highlighted by Sen. Jon Kyl, the second highest-ranking Republican in the chamber, and Leahy is using it to great effect. If Kyl believes three weeks is appropriate timeframe to consider an A.G. nominee, it’s tough to take GOP whining too seriously when Leahy is giving the minority party six weeks to prepare for Holder. (The process for Holder will already far exceed the confirmation schedule for both Alberto Gonzales and Janet Reno.)

This probably won’t completely placate the Republican critics — Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, wanted the hearings pushed to Jan. 26 — but I like to think Leahy has given an inch, he won’t give up a mile.

Leahy added in his statement, “It is disappointing to me that [Senate Republicans] are insisting that we delay at a time when the nation needs its top law enforcement officer and national security team in place and working. I trust that with this additional time to prepare, they will cooperate in proceeding promptly to Committee and Senate consideration of the historic Holder nomination as Democrats did for President Bush.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.