WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats argued Thursday for long-overdue confirmation of President Barack Obama’s attorney general pick, Loretta Lynch, as her nomination headed for a confirmation vote after a five-month wait.
“She is as qualified a candidate as I’ve seen in my time in the Senate,” said Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., adding that in approving her nomination, the Senate would be doing “something it should have done months ago.”
The nomination of Lynch, now U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was expected to win approval with the support of all Democrats and at least five Republicans in the Thursday afternoon vote. She would replace Eric Holder and become the first black woman to hold the nation’s top law enforcement job.
Although most Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, planned to oppose her, they seemed ready to move on after delaying her vote for a variety of reasons — most recently to complete work on a human trafficking bill that got ensnared in an unexpected and lengthy dispute over abortion. A compromise on that issue was reached earlier this week and the trafficking bill was unanimously approved on Wednesday.
McConnell barely mentioned the Lynch vote in his opening remarks on the Senate floor Thursday.
“Today we’ll consider the president’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch,” McConnell said. “Last month, I said the Senate would consider this nominee as soon as we passed an all-important anti-slavery bill, and today, we’ll consider the nominee.”
Democrats have grown incensed over the long delay in confirming Lynch, with Obama himself weighing in last week to lament Senate dysfunction and decry the wait as “crazy” and “embarrassing.” Yet Democrats controlled the Senate when Lynch was nominated last November and could have brought up her nomination for a vote then. They held off with the GOP’s encouragement after being routed in the midterm elections, and spent the time confirming judges instead.
There was an expectation that Republican leaders would move Lynch’s nomination swiftly this year, especially since most GOP members of Congress loathe Holder, who’s seen as too politically close to Obama and even more liberal. But instead, the nomination became tangled in the dispute over Obama’s executive actions limiting deportations for millions of immigrants in the country illegally. Once Lynch voiced support for Obama’s moves, a number of potential Republican supporters abandoned her, and her nomination seemed to stall.
Still, five Republicans have said they intend to vote for Lynch — Mark Kirk of Illinois, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. That means she would win confirmation with at least 51 votes and no need for Vice President Joe Biden to cast a tie-breaking vote, as had looked possible in recent months.
Lynch, who grew up in North Carolina, has been the top prosecutor since 2010 for a district that includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a role she also held from 1999 to 2001. She is seen as a straight shooter, has wide law enforcement support and is viewed as a noncontroversial choice.