WASHINGTON – The Senate’s delay in confirming federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch as the next attorney general is carrying some ironic consequences – the man Republicans love to hate, Eric Holder, is expected to remain in the post until a successor passes muster.
Holder, thus far the only person to serve as attorney general during the Obama administration, announced plans to depart last September. He said at that time that he would remain in office until a successor was confirmed.
Lynch, the U.S. attorney for Brooklyn, N.Y., is President Obama’s choice to fill the job but Republicans, who gained a majority in the upper chamber in the November elections, have been slow-walking her nomination as a result of objections from some lawmakers, like Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who complained she would hew too closely to Obama policies.
“Attorneys general do not swear an oath to the president — they swear an oath to uphold the Constitution,” Vitter said. “Their job is not to justify clearly illegal actions on behalf of the president, it is to defend the Constitution against executive overreach. Ms. Lynch has made it clear that she will not stand up to President Obama’s lawlessness.”
Regardless, the Lynch nomination passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 12-8 vote and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, planned to call it up for consideration this week.
But then politics got involved. McConnell wanted a vote on a bipartisan bill dealing with human trafficking – it creates a federal fund for victims’ services and law enforcement tools financed by fines levied on convicted traffickers – that appeared destined for easy passage. But Democrats discovered a provision within the bill that expands the Hyde Amendment, a law that prohibits taxpayer-funded abortions, and sought to have the language excised.
McConnell and Republicans refused, leading Democrats to launch a filibuster. The issue has not yet been resolved. McConnell said the maneuvering will further postpone the Lynch confirmation.
“I had hoped to turn to her next week, but if we can’t finish the trafficking bill, she will be put off again,” McConnell said, referring to Lynch, during an appearance on State of the Union on CNN.
“A majority of the Senate does not want to take the language out, and all of the Democrats voted for the very same language three months ago,” McConnell said. “Now if they want to have time to turn to the attorney general next week, we need to finish up this human trafficking bill. It’s extremely important to the country.”
But Senate Democrats balked, placing both the trafficking bill and the Lynch nomination in limbo. Democrats already were irritated by the prolonged wait to get Lynch a vote – more than 130 days have passed since the nomination, longer than any attorney general submission since Ed Meese during the Reagan administration.
“It’s an unconscionable delay,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “There’s not a single legitimate question that has been raised about her aptitude for this job. Instead, all we’ve seen is a bunch of political obstruction from Republicans.”
The situation, Earnest said, “does not speak well of Republicans’ efforts to run the Senate.”
Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin, of Illinois, went even further in his assessment.
“The Republican Majority Leader announced over the weekend that he was going to hold this nomination of Loretta Lynch until the bill, which is pending before the Senate passes, whenever that may be,” Durbin said. “And so Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar. That is unfair. It’s unjust. It is beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States Senate. This woman deserves fairness.”
Regardless, Holder remains on the job and could stay there for the foreseeable future unless some arrangement is made. Earnest told reporters that the incumbent attorney general would remain on the job “as long as necessary.”
Which places Republicans in an odd position. Holder has battled repeatedly with GOP lawmakers over an untold number of issues. The Republican-controlled House held him in contempt in 2012 for refusing to turn over requested documents related to the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scandal. Several GOP lawmakers have demanded his resignation.
Holder has used the delay in confirming his replacement by remaining active in the post and thereby drawing conservative ire. He has, for instance, been involved in the investigations regarding the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. He also released a critical report about racism within the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.
“There is no place I would rather be in my closing days as attorney general than here with you all,” Holder said during an appearance this week at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “Or, at least, these should be my closing days. Given the Senate’s scheduling and delays in considering Loretta Lynch’s nomination for a vote, it’s almost as if the Republicans in Congress have discovered a new fondness for me.”
“I’m feeling love here that I haven’t felt for some time, and where was all this affection for the last six years?” he asked.