Hot-button politics crowd Merrick Garland’s desk: The Note

·6 min read
Hot-button politics crowd Merrick Garland’s desk: The Note

The TAKE with Rick Klein

It was a boilerplate answer to what Attorney General Merrick Garland knew was a loaded question.

Asked about whether Steve Bannon would face criminal charges, with the House about to vote to hold him in criminal contempt, Garland said on Capitol Hill Thursday: "The Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances -- we will apply the facts in the law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution."

That's actually part of what has some Democrats worried, surrounding the weighty and politically charged issues piling up on Garland's desk.

After a presidency in which almost nothing was done the ways things were always done, including with regard to the Justice Department, an expectation has set in that the rules need to change -- and that Garland, of all people, should understand that.

In the wake of the House vote in which nine Republicans joined Democrats in referring criminal charges against Bannon, it’s not just the decision about whether to pursue charges against him or other Trump loyalists who don’t cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee.

PHOTO: Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies at a House Judiciary Committee hearing at the Capitol, Oct. 21, 2021. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies at a House Judiciary Committee hearing at the Capitol, Oct. 21, 2021. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

This week's failure by Congress to act on voting rights elevates the Justice Department's profile when it comes to a range of new state laws. Garland's team also has to sort through redistricting, immigration prosecutions, police tactics, threats against lawmakers and school officials, and inherited investigations of Hunter Biden and the origins of the Russia probe.

Frustration has grown among some White House allies that Garland is acting as if business should or can be usual. Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman who played a leading role in the Trump impeachments, said this week that Garland is wrong to not pursue a variety of possible criminal actions against former President Donald Trump himself.

"I think there's a real desire on the part of the attorney general, for the most part, not to look backward," Schiff told Yahoo News. "In my view, you don't ignore the crimes that have been committed by a president of the United States. They need to be investigated."

Garland would likely be a Supreme Court justice if not for GOP senators' refusal to advance his nomination in 2016, and he gave up a lifetime perch as a circuit court judge to take his current job.

But for all that he was, the political landscape could be defined by what some Democrats expect him to be in the aftermath of the Trump years.

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

The partisan war over vaccine mandates escalated in Florida on Thursday, with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis calling for a special legislative session next month to address vaccine requirements. The governor's move is the latest installment in GOP state executives challenging the federal requirements implemented by the Biden administration.

"Your right to earn a living should not be contingent upon COVID shots," said DeSantis during a press conference alongside the state's attorney general and surgeon general.

The governor outlined several policy areas related to vaccine mandates that he wants the legislature to address. All of his proposals undermine the federal requirement stipulating that businesses with 100 or more employees, as well as federal workers, must be vaccinated or submit to regular COVID-19 testing. DeSantis added that his administration is charting a path forward to sue over that policy's extension to federal contractors.

PHOTO: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during the welcome segment of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 26, 2021.  (Joe Skipper/Reuters, FILE)
PHOTO: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during the welcome segment of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 26, 2021. (Joe Skipper/Reuters, FILE)

Although he did not announce a date or specific agenda for the special session, DeSantis mentioned that he wanted school masking mandates to be evaluated. The governor has already been battling federal guidelines on school masking policies for months and previously threatened to cut funding from schools that kept mask requirements in place.

Florida Senate Democrats blasted DeSantis for continuing to "politicize public health by dragging the Florida Legislature into his partisan fight against science" and estimated that holding a special session over this issue would cost taxpayers $1 million.

The TIP with Quinn Scanlan

Former President Barack Obama will return to the campaign trail Saturday, stumping for Virginia and New Jersey Democratic nominees for governor, Terry McAuliffe and incumbent Phil Murphy.

With only 11 days to go until the Nov. 2 elections, the Democrats are hoping to energize their base to turn out and maintain each states' government trifecta. The top of the ticket contest in Virginia is of bigger concern to the party, as McAuliffe vies for his former post against Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity executive who's gained ground over the past month.

He's not on the trail often, but Obama is still one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, making him a top surrogate and mobilizer. His trip lands on the first day ever of in-person early voting in New Jersey, thanks to a law Murphy signed into law earlier this year. But the former president may be more helpful in Virginia, where polls show the race has become a dead heat.

PHOTO: Former President Barack Obama speaks during a drive-in rally while campaigning for Democratic nominee Joseph Biden, on Oct. 21, 2020, in Philadelphia. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: Former President Barack Obama speaks during a drive-in rally while campaigning for Democratic nominee Joseph Biden, on Oct. 21, 2020, in Philadelphia. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images, FILE)

The closeness of the race is evident by Obama being just one of the big-ticket Democrats joining him on the trail in the final stretch. His stop in Richmond, the commonwealth's capital which has a majority-minority population, comes after Vice President Kamala Harris held a rally with McAuliffe in Prince William County, the most diverse county in Virginia, according to the U.S. Census. President Joe Biden will also make a stop in Northern Virginia on Tuesday.

Youngkin, however, seems unphased by the national Democrats hitting the trail for his opponent.

"Nobody's coming to campaign with me," he told CBS this week. "I mean, this is a race about Virginians and about the Virginia challenges."

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Friday morning's episode begins with the long search for Brian Laundrie coming to an end with the FBI identifying his remains at Carlton Reserve in Florida. ABC News' Trevor Ault reports on what happens next in the investigation into Gabby Petito's death. Then, ABC News contributor Elizabeth Neumann offers analysis on new reports from some of the nation's top military and intelligence agencies that say climate change is affecting national security. And, students at Howard University tell ABC News' Kenneth Moton why they're protesting living conditions at the school. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS WEEKEND

President Joe Biden attends the president's daily brief at 9:30 a.m., before traveling to Wilmington, Delaware. Democratic nominee for governor Terry McAuliffe kicks off a bus tour Friday with events in Northern Virginia beginning at 8:45 a.m. White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing at 1:30 p.m. Former President Barack Obama joins McAuliffe in Richmond, Virginia, for a campaign event at noon, and Gov. Phil Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, for an early vote rally at 3:30 p.m. Republican nominee for governor Glenn Youngkin kicks off a bus tour with an early vote rally in Henrico, Virginia, at 7 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, musician Dave Matthews, Stacey Abrams and Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison participate in a rally with McAuliffe at 11 a.m. in Charlottesville, Virginia.Sunday on ABC's "This Week": The Powerhouse Roundtable discusses all the week's politics with former New Jersey Governor and ABC News Contributor Chris Christie, former DNC Chair and ABC News Contributor Donna Brazile, host of the New York Times podcast, "The Argument" and ABC News Contributor Jane Coaston and Dispatch Staff Writer and ABC News Contributor Sarah Isgur.

Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Monday for the latest.

Hot-button politics crowd Merrick Garland’s desk: The Note originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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