Give Loretta Lynch a Vote

She deserves a vote.

Photographer: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

It was inevitable that the new Republican leaders in Congress would face a learning curve. Unfortunately, they are proving to be slow learners.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s treatment of Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general, is the latest in a series of strategic missteps that have led to an unproductive start for this Congress -- even by recent congressional standards.

After delaying a vote on Lynch by a month, McConnell is now trying to use her nomination as leverage to force Democrats to accept abortion restrictions that were added to a bipartisan bill to assist the victims of human trafficking. That bill was sailing toward passage until Democrats noticed that Republicans had inserted the restrictions, which prevent fines collected from human-trafficking criminals from being used to provide their victims with abortions or Plan B contraception. Democrats have vowed to filibuster the bill.

Republicans can argue until they are blue in the face that Democrats should have noticed the abortion language before helping to pass the bill through committee. They have a point, but they don’t appear to have the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have tripped up over abortion. In January, one of the party’s first pieces of business was passage of a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks, with only limited exceptions for rape. Republican women in the House refused to go along, however, and publicly questioned why the party was putting an abortion bill -- which had no chance of becoming law -- ahead of economic policy. The leadership eventually relented.

It is also not the first time Republicans have had trouble counting to 60. In February, the party thought it could repeal Obama’s executive actions on immigration by making it a condition of funding for the Department of Homeland Security. When Republicans finally accepted that they lacked the Democratic votes necessary to pass such a bill -- much less override a presidential veto -- Republicans in the House and Senate caved.

Now Republicans appear to have decided to trade one hostage -- Homeland Security -- for another: Loretta Lynch. The party’s opposition to Lynch rests almost entirely on her unwillingness to criticize Obama’s immigration policies. Unless a compromise can be reached, Republicans will be in the position of indefinitely delaying a vote on the first black woman nominated for attorney general, even though she appears to have enough Republican support to be confirmed.

By tabling a vote on Lynch, Republicans risk further alienation of black and Latino voters -- and even more rancorous relations with Democrats, just as budget negotiations are beginning. Republicans still need to show the country that they govern. And the best way to do that is to bring Lynch's nomination to the floor, and the sooner the better.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.