For Attorney General Eric Holder, the GOP’s obstruction of Loretta Lynch’s nomination to replace him is both a slap in the face to the political process and demeaning to Lynch, an unblemished nominee who has been widely praised on both sides of the aisle.
“The notion that we would be here, where we are deadlocked about a woman who is unbelievably qualified, who received really glowing reviews about her performance during her confirmation hearing, is almost inconceivable to me,” Holder told msnbc on Friday. “When we show to the American people the dysfunction that has gripped Washington over the last few years, and add yet another layer of dysfunction, this erodes faith in our institutions. And that’s just not good for the country over the long term.”
In an exclusive interview with msnbc, Holder for the first time responded to efforts by Senate Republicans to block a vote on Lynch’s nomination to become the new attorney general, which is currently on hold pending an unpassable and partisan human trafficking bill containing a sticky abortion amendment.
Lynch has waited 132 days to be confirmed, longer than any designate for attorney general in modern history – five times longer than her five predecessors combined, and twice as long as Holder. Lynch’s protracted nomination could very well drag on for several more weeks, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to place her vote on the senate calendar and congress prepares for a two-week recess beginning March 28.
Holder said it strikes him as “a little strange” that Republicans who have time and again derided him as attorney general are stalling his exit by holding Lynch’s nomination hostage.
“You’ve got this person who was qualified, apparently unopposed by their witnesses, who have negative feelings about the sitting attorney general who was going to stay here, committed to the work that I’m doing, and yet they have held her up for reasons that make, from my perspective, little or no sense,” Holder said.
Department of Justice officials have said Holder has maintained a busy schedule of meetings and appointments and has continued his work as attorney general despite the loggerheads over Lynch’s confirmation.
Perhaps to the chagrin of his detractors who have been anticipating his departure, Holder said he is committed to seeing the process through for as long as Lynch remains in limbo.
“No one should be under the illusion that I’m simply here marking time,” Holder said. “I’m here as a fully-engaged attorney general, doing the work that every attorney general would be expected to do.”
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said last week that Lynch would be placed on the calendar for a vote this week. But he reversed course earlier this week and said the vote wouldn’t happen until the trafficking bill is dealt with.
In the following days the sidelining of the Lynch matter has grown into a spectacle, an unprecedented stall of what many have described as the most qualified attorney general nominee in recent memory. The White House has grown increasingly frustrated with the delay. Democrats have blasted their Republican counterparts for poor political gamesmanship in holding up the nomination over legislation that has nothing to do with Lynch and breaking senate decorum. Black and women leaders have lashed out, saying a convergence of race and gender are fueling the GOP’s obstructionist tactics.
On Thursday, Republican Sen. John McCain slammed Sen. Minority Whip Dick Durbin, who a day earlier likened efforts to stall Lynch’s confirmation to Jim Crow Segregation.
Durbin said Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, was being asked to “sit in the back of the bus.”
“That is unfair. It’s unjust. It is beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States Senate,” Durbin said.
McCain said he was outraged at the intimation that race was a factor in the hold-up.
“What is beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States Senate, I would say to the senator from Illinois, is for him to come to this floor and use that imagery and suggest that racist tactics are being employed to delay Ms. Lynch’s confirmation vote,” McCain said. “Such inflammatory rhetoric has no place in this body and serves no purpose other than to further divide us.”
Holder said that he didn’t believe race was a factor in Lynch’s confirmation debacle.
“My guess is that there is probably not a huge racial component to this, that this is really just D.C. politics, Washington at its worst,” Holder said. “A battle about something that is not connected to this nominee – holding up this nominee. I think that’s the main driver here.”