“We’ve put up with this for too long. And we’re going to need to have a vote on her very soon that’s created by [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, or I’ll create one,” Reid said in an interview with msnbc’s Rachel Maddow, airing Thursday night at 9 p.m. Eastern. “I can still do that. I know parliamentary procedure around here and we’re going to put up with this for a little while longer but not much.”
Lynch’s nomination has been held up in part by a stalled anti-human trafficking bill, which contains abortion provisions unacceptable to many Democrats but that Republicans insist on passing before they proceed to a vote on the attorney general-designate. However, a Justice Department official told msnbc that the debate is now focused solely on the language of the bill, and that the department is hopeful that the delay – already twice as long as the last seven attorneys general combined – will be over by the end of next week.
“The irony here is that Republicans begged POTUS in good faith not to confirm her in the lame duck,” the official said, referring to the period after the November midterm elections but before Republicans took majority control of the Senate. “And now they once again are putting politics ahead of what is good for the country.”
But a vote could come sooner than expected if Reid, who has the option of moving to an executive session to consider the Lynch nomination, forces a cloture vote. Such a vote would require only a simple majority.
“Absolutely I’m going to force a vote. If we don’t get something done soon, I will force a vote,” Reid said, adding that he had spoken with several Republican colleagues about the possibility.
Reid referred to the procedural trick again later Thursday in an objection on the Senate floor, after McConnell reiterated his plan to pass the trafficking bill before considering Lynch’s nomination.
“We’re not going to treat the current majority as poorly as the Republican minority treated us when we were in the majority, and I’m not going to object to the majority leader’s consent today,” Reid said. ”However, I want everyone to know, I’m going to serve notice right now that Miss Lynch’s nomination will not remain in purgatory forever. So I withdraw my objection.”
Some activists – including female civil rights leaders and members of the advocacy group National Action Network, founded by msnbc host Al Sharpton – are launching one-day consecutive hunger strikes to push for a vote for Lynch.
At the White House press briefing today, spokesman Josh Earnest made the White House’s frustrations clear, accusing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of an “an outstanding display of duplicity.” Asked if such comments only fan the flames, Earnest responded, “Being nice has gotten us a 160 day delay. Maybe after they look up duplicitous in the dictionary we will get a different result.”
Grassley retorted in a statement, “If nothing else, the White House certainly is good at rewriting history.” Grassley argued that Democrats had actually waited for Republican control because they wanted to “ram through a dozen judges” in lower courts. ”Senate Democrats’ priorities didn’t include the Lynch nomination,” Grassley claimed. But in September 2014, after the announcement that Eric Holder was stepping down, Grassley said, “Rather than rush a nominee through the Senate in a lame-duck session, I hope the president will now take his time to nominate a qualified individual who can start fresh relationships with Congress.”
Frank Thorp and Trymaine Lee contributed reporting to this story.