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Joe Biden touches Merrick Garland after President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in March 2016. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden announced Judge Merrick Garland as his pick for attorney general on Thursday, seeking to place in the nation's top law enforcement job a respected federal appeals judge whose Supreme Court nomination Republicans blocked five years ago.

Why it matters: News of the selection, first reported by Politico, came just hours after the country learned that Democrats would likely win both Senate runoff elections in Georgia and take control of the Senate, making it harder for Republicans to block nominations.

  • That applies not just to the attorney general nominee himself, but also whomever Biden nominates to replace Garland as an appellate judge in a crucial circuit.
  • A possible candidate for any vacancy on the circuit court is D.C. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The big picture: Biden also announced Lisa Monaco to serve as deputy attorney general, Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke as assistant attorney general for civil rights.

  • Monaco served as assistant attorney general for national security in the Obama administration, as well as the White House homeland security and counterterrorism advisor.
  • Gupta is also a DOJ veteran, having served as acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division.
  • Clarke also has DOJ experience, and served as head of the civil rights bureau for the New York State attorney general’s office.

Between the lines: By selecting Garland, Biden is sending a message about fairness and redemption, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied hearings for President Obama's pick to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

  • It's unclear whether McConnell and his fellow Republicans will fight this nomination, but McConnell is on-record saying Garland would make a good FBI director, calling him "an apolitical professional" in 2017.
  • Speculation and jockeying for AG also focused on other contenders, including former Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama and former deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
  • In settling on Garland, Biden hopes to restore the integrity and independence in DOJ's leadership that Democrats feel the department lost under the Trump administration.

Background: Garland, 68, is a Chicago native and graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School.

  • He served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997.
  • Before that, he supervised high-profile cases of domestic terrorism, including the Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber cases in the 1990s. That experience could be useful to him following a Department of Homeland Security assessment this year that violent while supremacy is the most persistent lethal domestic threat.
  • McConnell never explicitly said he opposed Garland's appointment to the Supreme Court, only that Democrats should not get to fill the seat in the final year of Obama's presidency when Republicans controlled the Senate.

Go deeper

McConnell: Trump "provoked" Capitol mob

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was "provoked by the president and other powerful people."

Why it matters: Trump was impeached by the House last week for "incitement of insurrection." McConnell has not said how he will vote in Trump's coming Senate impeachment trial, but sources told Axios' Mike Allen that the chances of him voting to convict are higher than 50%.

16 hours ago - Health

Biden's pick for key health role could be first transgender official confirmed by Senate

Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to serve as assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, the transition team announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: Levine would make history as the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Biden has pledged to assemble the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history in order to reflect the country's demographics.

Updated 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.

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