Senate standoff over human trafficking bill stalls Loretta Lynch confirmation

GWEN IFILL: How many hot buttons can they push at one time?  The Senate turns a confirmation debate into a standoff over human trafficking and abortion. And, in New Hampshire, two likely Republican presidential candidates test the waters.

For more on the week, this politics Monday, we turn to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and Tamara Keith of NPR.

Let's start on Capitol Hill, Amy, in which the attorney general's nomination, Loretta Lynch, the designate's nomination, is being held up not because of immigration fights, which we have had before, not because of other things, but in this case because of a human trafficking bill that Democrats and Republicans actually agree about?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: This is one of those rare instances, right, where you get Democrats and Republicans agreeing on bipartisan legislation.


AMY WALTER: It looked like it was going to sail through the Senate.

And then Democrats came out, what was it, a week ago or so and said, it seems that there's an abortion provision that was snuck in here by Republicans. Republicans say, it wasn't snuck in here. It's been here all along. You all didn't read the bill.

And we're back to where we always are on Capitol Hill, which is Democrats saying Republicans are doing bad things. Republicans say, Democrats are doing bad things. And now we have a stalemate, Democrats saying, we're not going to vote on this, Republicans saying, fine, then we're going to hold up Loretta Lynch.

GWEN IFILL: And I have noticed that the pushback coming from Hillary Clinton and others in Planned Parenthood is that this is now a triple attack on women, and that is by attaching the Hyde amendment language, anti-abortion language, to this, by holding up a human trafficking bill, which affects women, and by holding up the nomination of the — only the first African-American woman ever nominated to be attorney general, that this is the war again.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Yes, the old war on women narrative.

But I think that what Republicans would say is, Democrats should just let us vote on this human trafficking bill. They voted it out of committee unanimously. Let's just get this over with, and we will move right on to Loretta Lynch. That's what they're saying.

Now, truth be told, there is no technical reason why they couldn't do both things at the same time.

GWEN IFILL: Wait, wait, wait. That's a concept, doing two things at once?

TAMARA KEITH: I know, walking, chewing gum. They could actually — actually, today, the Senate voted on a couple of nominations, and voted them out.

So, it's not like they can't technically do it. It basically is now Mitch McConnell saying, I do not want to move on to Loretta Lynch unless…

GWEN IFILL: It's his leverage?

TAMARA KEITH: It's his leverage?  But, also, there is some thought out there that the vote could be pretty close on Loretta Lynch. Republicans especially are concerned about her stance on the president's immigration action, other things and some other smaller things.

And so there is some concern that it could be really close, and that wouldn't look good for Senate Republicans and Mitch McConnell. Actually, Mitch McConnell himself has not yet said how he plans to vote on the Lynch nomination.

AMY WALTER: And it goes back to, this is all about both sides now playing to their base, right?

Democrats seizing this as an opportunity to say to their base, look, we're — whether it's on women and whether it's on abortion, we're standing up for you. Republicans, the Loretta Lynch has been about immigration more than anything else, using her vote as an opportunity to say to their base that doesn't like immigration reform, see, and doesn't like what the president did on immigration, see, we're going to stand up for you by voting against Loretta Lynch.

We're back to this Kabuki theater, right, where we're just constantly playing around. It seems we're voting on one thing, but really this is a debate about something completely different.

GWEN IFILL: OK. Let's go to something completely different, the 2016 campaign.

This weekend marked the maiden visit to New Hampshire, at least in 15 years, for Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, who is the governor of Wisconsin, both of them, to the extent that polls matter, kind of burbling up there at the top of a big field. What are we thinking about Jeb Bush now in New Hampshire?  What was he going there for?

TAMARA KEITH: He was going to New Hampshire in some way to say, I'm not going to act like I'm inevitable. Maybe I have all the money and all the people lined up, but I'm not going to campaign here.

He was basically going to say, I am going to be more like John McCain than I'm going to be like my brother. He went to a house party at a former New Hampshire Republican Party chair's house and took questions forever from small children, from adults. Then he went out in the driveway and took questions from reporters.

He made himself very open, very accessible. Now, of course, this also plays to his strengths, because he doesn't do big speeches as well as he does Q&As. But he went to New Hampshire and said, I'm going to do New Hampshire the New Hampshire way.

GWEN IFILL: And how about Scott Walker?

AMY WALTER: And Scott Walker has a challenge here, too, which is, he's doing very well in Iowa, in part because the electorate in Iowa is very much like the kind of electorate that Scott Walker would do well with.

They're more conservative. It's obviously a Midwestern state. He's from Wisconsin. The question is, can he do something after Iowa?  And we know that New Hampshire is the next state. A little more moderate. Independents are there, play a big role in the primary process. If there is a place to stop Jeb Bush, it would be in New Hampshire. If he can win Iowa and New Hampshire, that would be a big, big blow to the Bush campaign.


Let's go to the Democratic side of the ledger here and back to the Hillary Clinton e-mails, which we have now seen. Grain of salt, but we have seen a poll this afternoon from CNN that shows that she's taking something of a hit. I don't know if it's about the e-mails or about just the general idea of transparency. How do you read this?

AMY WALTER: Well, I read this as, this is the problem about being the Democratic nominee for president when you're not the Democratic nominee for president, right, that she is essentially a candidate for president without all the things that go along with that, like a campaign team that can help you to respond to a lot of this.

There is a big vacuum around Hillary Clinton. And what's filling it is a lot of negative information. That's what voters are getting. At the same time, when you look at the sort of guts of this poll, what you find is, how people feel about Hillary Clinton and whether or not the e-mails are relevant is exactly the same way that people felt back in 1994 about whether the Whitewater documents were relevant to whether Bill Clinton could do his job.

So, really, we're back to this polarized America that we have been in for quite some time, which is, if you like the Clintons, you think that this is not a big deal. If you don't like them, it is a big deal.

GWEN IFILL: And even if she took a hit, she still is doing better in the popularity polls than, say, the president of the United States.

AMY WALTER: That's right.

TAMARA KEITH: Certainly.

And I have talked to a lot of people on the ground in Iowa and in New Hampshire. And in talking to Democrats, they feel like they would love for her to have a primary; they would love for her to have a little fight. There's this idea that…

GWEN IFILL: It toughens you up.

TAMARA KEITH: Well, yes, and it's hard to run really fast unless someone or something is chasing you.


TAMARA KEITH: And so I think that they would like her to have a little something, but they just aren't worried about this e-mail thing. I think that it is a much bigger deal in this bubble where we exist here in the Washington, D.C., area.

GWEN IFILL: I'm shocked to hear you say that we may not be in touch with what's happening in the early primary…

AMY WALTER: That's right.

But what do we know about when you're around a toddler?  The most dangerous time when they get in trouble is when they're hungry, or tired or bored. Same goes with reporters.


AMY WALTER: And they're very bored now. Reporters are bored. There's no primary around Hillary Clinton. There's nothing there. So…

GWEN IFILL: But, that said, there has been so much scrutiny now and so much a connection made between what she did and what they have done that there has to be some pressure.

TAMARA KEITH: Absolutely.

And I think there is — yes, I just — I think that coming from her people, there's this feeling like she's held to a different standard than everyone else, that Jeb Bush has e-mail issues. Members of Congress don't even have to save their e-mails. And yet we're talking about Hillary Clinton and we will — forever, we're going to be talking about Hillary Clinton.

GWEN IFILL: Oh, thank you. That's something to look forward to for the next year or so.


GWEN IFILL: Tamara Keith from NPR, Amy Walter from The Cook Political Report, thank you both.

AMY WALTER: Thanks, Gwen.

TAMARA KEITH: Thank you.