WASHINGTON — The Senate voted 56-43 to confirm Loretta Lynch as the country’s first black female attorney general on Thursday, ending months of delay.
In an unexpected turn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted with all Democrats to confirm Lynch after slow-walking her nomination.
The other Republicans who voted for Lynch were Sens. Orrin Hatch (UT), Lindsey Graham (SC), Jeff Flake (AZ), Thad Cochran (MS), Susan Collins (ME), Mark Kirk (IL), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Ron Johnson (WI) and Rob Portman (OH).
Kirk, Ayotte, Johnson and Portman are up for reelection in 2016.
“Today, the Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch to be America’s next Attorney General – and America will be better off for it,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy. … Loretta’s confirmation ensures that we are better positioned to keep our communities safe, keep our nation secure, and ensure that every American experiences justice under the law.”
The vote means Eric Holder, one of the longest-serving attorneys general who announced in November his intent to step down, can finally move on.
The only senator who missed the final vote was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), an outspoken opponent of Lynch. He left Capitol Hill before it happened, a source close to him said.
Democrats had been fuming about the delay. Lynch, who was nominated by Obama on November 8, had waited 10 times longer than the average attorney general nominee, according to a Congressional Research Service report circulated by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office. The report also found that she waited longer than the first 54 attorney generals combined — from the presidency of George Washington through Woodrow Wilson’s.
The Republican opposition was not about her qualifications or record — she currently serves as a U.S. attorney in New York — but rather about her support for Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which the party roundly claim are unconstitutional. Thursday morning, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Cruz made last-ditch pleas to scuttle the nomination. Obama’s actions are being fought in court; a federal judge has put them on hold.
“The Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder has too often put partisan and ideological considerations ahead of the rule of law,” McConnell said in a statement. “It is a Department desperately in need of new direction and leadership. I am hopeful that Ms. Lynch will use her lengthy professional experience and skills to provide the new leadership, reform, and improved relations with the Congress that the Department sorely needs.”
The nomination was delayed by the Republican-led Senate for an additional six weeks due to an unrelated battle over human trafficking and abortion.
This article has been updated to add statements from President Obama and Sen. McConnell.