WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved President Donald Trump’s nominee for director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, as well two of his picks for federal judgeships.
The committee sent Lee Francis Cissna’s nomination to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to the full Senate with a 17-2 vote on Thursday morning. Cissna previously worked in the agency’s office of chief counsel, having also spent time at the State Department and in private practice after getting his law degree at Georgetown University.
The committee also approved David Nye to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho and Scott Pal to take a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Both Nye and Palk were originally nominated by former President Barack Obama, with Trump choosing to re-nominate them after taking office.
Nye sailed through the committee on a voice vote, with no senators speaking up to object to sending him to the full Senate. The committee similarly sent Vishal Amin, who is nominated as intellectual property enforcement coordinator for the Executive Office of the President, to the full Senate with the same voice vote.
Palk, on the other hand, had a slightly tougher path through the committee, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., raised concerns about his decision to accept a lifetime membership with the National Rifle Association even after he was up for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. Feinstein was also bothered by Palk’s refusal to commit to recusing himself on any cases that came before him and involved the NRA.
“I began to think about that and I thought how would I feel if I were before him and I knew that he was a lifetime member of an organization that is in favor of virtually anywhere, anytime gun ownership, possession, sale, transfer, whatever,” Feinstein said before voting against him. “And I think to take out a lifetime membership when you’re going to be a lifetime federal judge is rather sobering. I would not want to go before him.”
Feinstein and Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy had a brief back and forth about the California Democrat’s objection to Palk, where Kennedy wondered whether any nominee going forward who is a member of the NRA would have a hard time getting through the committee. Feinstein insisted that Palk was different because he took out the lifetime membership after he was nominated and still refused to say he would recuse himself from cases in which the NRA took a position.
But only two other Democrats on the committee joined Feinstein in opposing Palk, meaning he will go to the Senate floor after a 17-3 vote.
The committee was also scheduled to take up the nomination of Stephen Elliott Boyd, who Trump chose as assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, but Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley held it over due to a backlog of records and interview requests from senators to the Justice Department.
Grassley said there are 16 outstanding requests, some dating back to the Obama administration, and that the Justice Department has refused to make Boyd available to committee staff for investigative and oversight purposes.
“The department needs to improve its communication with committee members and staff,” Grassley said. “It needs to be more serious about answering the mail and questions from Congress.”
Grassley held over the nomination until next week, by which time he hopes to have heard back from the Justice Department on the outstanding requests.
All nominees must still be approved by the full Senate and approval from the Judiciary Committee simply makes them available for a vote.