Loretta Lynch Senate Confirmation Vote Seen Delayed Until April

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch arrives for a news conference to announce money laundering charges against HSBC on December 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch probably won’t get a Senate confirmation vote until at least mid-April, five months after she was nominated, because the chamber plans to spend this week debating its budget proposal.

“Budget all week,” Don Stewart, a spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in an e-mail Monday when asked whether the Senate would vote on Lynch before taking a two-week spring break until April 13. President Barack Obama said Nov. 8 he was nominating her to replace Attorney General Eric Holder.

“We’re as disappointed as we can be,” Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said in an interview Monday. “There hasn’t been one earthly reason given.” He said he still hopes for a vote this week.

McConnell backed off a plan to consider her nomination last week amid a partisan fight over an anti-human-trafficking bill that’s stuck in the Senate. Democrats are blocking a vote because they object to Republican language in the bill to ban abortion funding. McConnell has said Lynch’s confirmation won’t come up until the human-trafficking dispute is resolved.

Obama and other Democrats have accused McConnell of holding Lynch’s confirmation hostage for political reasons. The delay also has a downside for Republicans because Holder, widely criticized by members of that party, is still on the job.

‘Unconscionable’ Delay

“The continued delay is unconscionable,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Monday during a press briefing. “While she waits for her confirmation, Attorney General Eric Holder continues to work very diligently in that office to advance the cause of justice and to use every lever in that office.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Lynch’s nomination Feb. 26 on a 12-8 vote. Three Republicans, Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, joined all nine of the committee’s Democrats in favor.

Republicans have controlled the Senate 54-46 since January. The backing of Hatch, Graham and Flake plus Collins means Lynch needs at least one more Republican -- or Vice President Joe Biden to break a tie -- if all 46 Democrats back her as expected.

Holder, who has said he will stay in the job until Lynch is confirmed, has clashed with Republican lawmakers over issues including a law enforcement operation to crack down on gun-smuggling on the U.S.-Mexico border as well as Justice Department challenges to states’ voter-identification laws.

Holder Replacement

“For those in my caucus who have been upset with some of the decisions made by Attorney General Holder, as I have been, the sooner he can be replaced by a career prosecutor, the better off our country will be,” Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who plans to vote to confirm Lynch, said in an interview.

Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia said in a statement Tuesday that she won’t support Lynch because she’s not confident that Lynch will “exercise the independence needed to stand up for the proper separation of powers.”

An attorney general should be capable of “pushing back when the executive branch overreaches,” Capito said.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized Republicans who are using the stalled trafficking legislation as a reason to delay the Lynch vote.

Racial Component?

Lynch has said that fighting human trafficking would be one of her top priorities as attorney general, Leahy said in a statement.

“And now, in the name of supporting human trafficking victims, Senate Republicans are blocking her nomination,” he said. “That makes no sense.”

Lynch, who has served twice as U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, would be the first black woman to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Some of Lynch’s backers have suggested a racial component to the deferred vote. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said in a March 18 floor speech that she “is being asked to sit on the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar.”

Obama has become increasingly critical of Senate Republicans as almost five months have passed since he announced Lynch’s nomination. He blamed a dysfunctional Senate and “stubbornness on the part of Republicans” in an interview with Huffington Post released last week.

‘Well Qualified’

“You don’t hold attorney general nominees hostage for other issues,” Obama said in the interview published March 20. “This is our top law enforcement officer. Nobody denies that she’s well-qualified. We need to go ahead and get her done.’

Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal said the vote was ‘‘egregiously long overdue, disgracefully delayed.” He said it would be possible for the Senate to vote this week, saying, “All it takes is 15 minutes.”

Most Republicans oppose Lynch or have said they are undecided about whether to support her.

“I will do everything I can to see that she doesn’t get the confirmation,” Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said in an interview last week.

“Holder is already here, I can’t do anything about that,” McCain said. “I can’t impeach him.”

Dissenting Republicans said her answers at a confirmation hearing didn’t convince them she would be independent enough to stand up to Obama if she disagreed with him.

While praising her legal career, they also criticized her for testifying that Obama’s actions on immigration were legal. Obama decided in November to temporarily defer deportations for about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

While two months of the delay occurred during November and December, the last months of Democrats’ Senate control, McConnell of Kentucky said at the time that her nomination “should be considered in the new Congress.”

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