For the first time in the history of the Senate, Republican women are joining the Judiciary Committee, a powerful panel that processes nominees for the Supreme Court and engages in contentious debates over abortion and immigration.
Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) will be on the committee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office announced Thursday. Blackburn was elected to the Senate in November. Ernst was first elected in 2014 and faces reelection in 2020. Both senators oppose abortion rights.
The lack of Republican women on the committee received widespread attention during the contentious confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in the fall. Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school. Kavanaugh denied the allegations.
The Judiciary Committee invited Ford to testify under oath. Rather than having the all-male GOP senators on the panel ask her personal and sensitive questions, they enlisted Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to do the questioning on their behalf.
Mitchell also questioned Kavanaugh, though Republican senators eventually took over for her.
After Kavanaugh was confirmed, McConnell (R-Ky.) said he hoped Republican women would serve on the committee in the future.
“We’ve encouraged several of our women senators to go on the committee, and I intend to do that again at the beginning of the next session,” said McConnell.
The GOP is also putting a historic number of women on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Blackburn and Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a former Air Force pilot who was the first woman to fly in combat and was appointed to the Senate in December, will join the panel. Ernst and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) are also on the committee.
Elsewhere, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has been critical of Trump’s conduct and his policies abroad, was assigned to the Foreign Relations Committee.
As a candidate for president in 2012, Romney called Russia the “number one geopolitical foe” of the United States. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
The Foreign Relations Committee is expected to be chaired by Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), a Trump ally. He replaces Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, a Trump critic who retired from Congress.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who has also been critical of Trump, is joining the Select Committee on Intelligence. The panel has been conducting its own probe into Russian interference and has yet to issue a report on its findings.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a former Trump critic who has become much more supportive of the president, is expected to helm the Judiciary Committee. In addition to examining Supreme Court picks, the panel also deals with other nominees to the federal bench, as well as to the Justice Department.
The committee will hold hearings on Jan. 15 and 16 on Trump’s attorney general nominee, William P. Barr.
Graham, who has remained critical of some of Trump’s foreign policies, will also serve on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Karoun Demirjian and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.