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Lindsey Graham to run Senate Judiciary Committee, Jim Clyburn set to be No. 3 in House

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Graham Clyburn

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, right, are set to claim high-profile roles in the next congressional session. File/AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File/Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

WASHINGTON — Two South Carolinians in Congress are set to take on major new roles in the upcoming session.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is poised to become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee after current GOP chairman, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, announced Friday he would move to take the finance chairmanship.

On the other side of the Capitol, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn has secured more than enough votes to reclaim the third-ranking position in the House next session with Democrats back in control, according to his top ally.

Grassley's decision to take over the finance committee leaves Graham as the most senior remaining member on judiciary, all but assuring him the chairmanship. 

The judiciary position will give Graham a key responsibility in confirming President Donald Trump's judicial nominees, a task that he has vowed to pursue aggressively.

Asked this week in a semi-regular appearance on Sean Hannity's Fox News show what his top priority would be if he got the job, Graham said, "Judges, judges and more judges."

In a statement Friday, Graham thanked Grassley for his time as chairman, which he said served as a model of leadership.

"If I am fortunate enough to be selected by my colleagues to serve as Chairman, I will push for the appointment and Senate confirmation of highly qualified conservative judges to the federal bench and aggressive oversight of the Department of Justice and FBI," Graham said. "Finally, I will continue to seek common sense, bipartisan solutions to major issues facing our nation."

Since entering Congress in 1995, Graham has never shied away from the spotlight. He served on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But the new job will provide him with the most high-profile platform of his career.

Once a vocal critic of Trump, Graham has since become one of his closest allies on Capitol Hill. Last month, he made national waves with his vigorous defense of Trump's second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, amidst accusations of decades-old sexual assault. Kavanaugh was confirmed to the bench soon after.

The Seneca Republican has also already threatened to use the position to investigate former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the FBI's handling of her emails while she was secretary of state, in part using it as leverage to urge Democrats against continuing to probe Trump's campaign.

"If you're going to keep plowing everything up (from) 2016, count me in," Graham warned Democrats during his Hannity interview. "If you want to look forward, I'll look forward. If you want to look back, we're going to all look back to everything and everybody, not just Trump."

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In a more bipartisan move, however, Graham has also aligned with Democrats to support legislation that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Graham would become the first South Carolinian to hold the coveted judiciary gavel since the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who ran the committee from 1981 to 1987.

In the House, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said Friday morning that the number of members committing to vote for Clyburn as majority whip has "far exceeded the number of votes that is required" — though he added that they will "not take it for granted" and continue to make the case for Clyburn in the coming weeks.

Democrats are scheduled to formally vote later this month in a closed-door party meeting for the top leadership roles. Clyburn faces U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., as his only competition for the job so far. 

"Clyburn is well-prepared for the job," said Butterfield, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group that has overwhelmingly supported Clyburn. "He's done it before, done it well and we have the votes."

A veteran Columbia Democrat, Clyburn last served as House majority whip when Democrats previously controlled the chamber from 2007 to 2011. The role tasks him first and foremost with persuading Democrats to vote together as a party, but it also gives him a place at the leadership table heading into the next session. 

In campaigning for the job, Clyburn argued that his background as a long-serving African-American member from a historically red state and a largely rural district gives him the ideal background to broaden the party's base.

"I think that I demonstrated during this campaign that I know how to interact with people in diverse communities," Clyburn said, noting that he stumped for candidates in 74 congressional districts ahead of the midterm elections. 

Touting himself as a "transitional" figure, Clyburn promised to build a stable of younger deputy whips as a way to groom the next generation of Democratic leaders.

The leadership races could still be shaken up if California Democrat Nancy Pelosi fails to secure enough votes for the House speakership, a possibility that continues to linger and would set in motion a domino effect that could impact lower positions. But for now, she is still favored to return to that post.

While Clyburn was expected to win the No. 3 position, he said Butterfield's vote count still provided a measure of relief.

"It allows me to go to home and enjoy Thanksgiving with family without having to worry about working the phones," Clyburn said. 

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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