Senate Leader 'Optimistic' for Deal That May Enable Loretta Lynch Vote

Loretta Lynch, Brooklyn prosecutor and nominee to replace U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senate leaders reported progress toward scheduling a confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be U.S. attorney general that has been blocked by a dispute over anti-abortion language in an unrelated measure.

Negotiators are “continuing to make progress” toward a solution to the language in an anti-human trafficking bill, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Thursday before adjourning the Senate for the week. He said he hopes the measure will be passed next week.

“The Senate would then consider the Lynch nomination,” McConnell said.

Earlier Thursday, progress in the talks prompted McConnell to cancel a planned procedural vote on the latest Republican proposal for resolving the dispute over the abortion language.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re in a much better place than I think we’ve been in the past three weeks,” Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas said at the time.

Although the Senate completed votes for the week without finalizing an agreement, Democrats said they were optimistic.

“Significant progress has been made, there’s no question in that regard,” Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on the floor. “But we are not there yet.”

Delaying Vote

Senate Democrats had rejected Republicans’ latest proposal for anti-abortion language in the trafficking bill, which McConnell has insisted the chamber pass before voting on Lynch’s nomination. The dispute has delayed for several weeks a confirmation vote on Lynch, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in November.

Democrats are blocking a vote on the measure because they object to language banning abortion funding. Reid said Wednesday that “it would be wrong” for Democrats to accept Cornyn’s latest proposal, which he said would inappropriately expand abortion restrictions.

“There is an honest effort to find a solution,” Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said Thursday, adding that senators were “still working on new language.”

Reid said in an interview set to air Thursday night on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” that he would seek to force a vote on Lynch’s confirmation if the Senate doesn’t act soon.

“I know parliamentary procedure around here and we’re going to put up with this for a little while longer but not much,” Reid said, according to a transcript released by his office.

No ‘Purgatory’

Later, on the Senate floor, Reid said, “I am going to serve notice, Ms. Lynch’s nomination will not remain in purgatory forever.”

Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, told reporters that Democrats won’t agree to apply the abortion-funding ban to non-taxpayer money.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said on Thursday that the vote was canceled after Republicans failed to persuade more Democrats to agree to advance the measure.

Lynch, 55, has support from 51 senators, including all 46 Democrats and five Republicans -- enough to win confirmation if a vote were held. The top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, Lynch would be the first black woman to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Holder Remaining

Lynch, currently the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, would replace Attorney General Eric Holder, who is remaining on the job until his successor is confirmed.

Many of the Senate’s 54 Republicans have questioned Lynch’s independence and criticized her support of the president’s immigration policies.

Holder has frequently clashed with Republican lawmakers over issues including a law enforcement operation to crack down on gun-smuggling at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as federal challenges to states’ voter-identification laws.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said at a meeting with Bloomberg reporters and editors Wednesday that Lynch has had to “wait longer than any other” nominee for attorney general for confirmation.

“I don’t think anyone doubts her qualifications,” Sanders said.

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