WASHINGTON — A threat over the weekend by the top Senate Republican to delay a final vote on Loretta Lynch, who would be the first African American woman to serve as attorney general, has quickly sparked a backlash among Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sunday that a vote on the confirmation of Lynch will be put off until the chamber can pass a generally bipartisan anti-human-trafficking bill that has stalled over an anti-abortion provision that Democrats are pushing to strip out.
“This will have an impact on the timing of considering the new attorney general. Now, I had hoped to turn to her next week, but, if we can’t finish the trafficking bill, she will be put off again,” McConnell said on CNN’s State of the Union program. “[Democrats] need to come to grips with this.”
It was a shift for McConnell, who last week said he would bring up the Lynch nomination before the full Senate this week.
Democrats were furious. Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT) — the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which approved her nomination 12-8 on February 26 — pointed out that no attorney general nominee in the last three decades has waited this long for a confirmation vote.
“Unfortunately, rather than move forward with this historic nomination, Senate Republicans appear intent on making history for all the wrong reasons,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) accused Republicans of “dragging their feet” and looking for excuses to delay.
“For months and months, Republicans have failed to move forward with her nomination using any excuse they can, except for any credible objection to her nomination itself,” he said in a statement. “At a time when terrorists from ISIS to Al-Shabaab threaten the United States, the nominee to be attorney general deserves an up or down vote.”
The conservative wing of the GOP strongly opposes Lynch, not because of her qualifications but because they say she’d be a rubber stamp for a “lawless” president, and no different from outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The battle over President Barack Obama’s immigration policies has damaged her standing among Republicans, not because she has played any role in immigration policy, but because they don’t want to confirm anyone who would support implementation of the president’s actions.
Lynch appears to have 50 votes, the bare minimum needed to be confirmed (assuming Vice President Joe Biden breaks the tie): all 46 members of the Democratic caucus, and the apparent support of four Republicans. Sens. Orrin Hatch (UT), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Jeff Flake (AZ) voted for her in committee, and Susan Collins (ME) has said she’ll vote for her on the floor.
The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote Tuesday to advance the trafficking bill with the anti-abortion language in it. Democrats are expected to filibuster, leaving the Lynch nomination up in the air.
“This was a noncontroversial bill,” McConnell said. “It came out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously. The language that they now profess to find offensive was in there from the beginning.”
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), said there is “nothing stopping the Senate from” voting on Lynch while it continues to debate the trafficking bill.
“Senator McConnell should keep his word and bring Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch up for a vote this week,” he said. “By continuing to stall Lynch’s nomination Republicans are failing yet another basic test of their ability to govern.”
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