WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to advance the nomination of Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein to serve as the No. 2 official at the Justice Department by a wide, bipartisan margin.
The 52-year-old Bethesda man, whose nomination to be deputy attorney general had been caught up in questions over how he would approach Russian involvement in last year's presidential election, was approved 19-1 by the committee and now moves to the full Senate. The timing of the Senate vote is not clear.
"It's imperative that the Justice Department have senior leadership in place as soon as possible," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee. He described Rosenstein as "highly qualified."
Rosenstein's otherwise noncontroversial nomination was thrust into the debate over Russia after Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he will recuse himself from investigations into the matter. That move would leave the decisionmaking over an investigation — including whether an independent prosecutor is named — to Rosenstein.
Rosenstein's appointment has become overshadowed by the consideration of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch — who was also approved by the committee Monday.
That vote fell along party lines, and Gorsuch's nomination is headed toward a showdown on the Senate floor later this week.
The only opposition to Rosenstein came from Sen. Richard Blumenthal. The Connecticut Democrat said Rosenstein has an "impressive background," but he opposed him because he has not committed to appoint an outside investigator on Russia.
"I would vote for him if he agreed to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Russian interference in our past election," Blumenthal said.
Rosenstein told the committee last month he would make that decision only after being briefed on the matter.
Rosenstein, appointed to serve as U.S. attorney for Maryland in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush and kept in the job by President Barack Obama, is the nation's longest-serving U.S. attorney. He has won high marks in Maryland from both sides of the aisle, and was introduced at his confirmation hearing by the state's two Democratic senators.
The committee also approved Rachel Brand, a former assistant attorney general, to serve in the No. 3 position at the department on a party-line vote.