After an unprecedented delay of more than 160 days, the Senate on Thursday finally voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general. She makes history as the first African-American female to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
The Senate confirmed Lynch in a 56-43 vote on Thursday, after a historic delay caused in part by partisan wrangling over an anti-human trafficking bill. Democrats objected to anti-abortion language in the legislation, and it languished in the Senate for weeks. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not call a vote on Lynch until the trafficking bill was resolved. On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed the bill, teeing up a confirmation vote for Lynch.
“Today, the Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch to be America’s next Attorney General — and America will be better off for it,” the White House said in a statement. “Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy.”
President Barack Obama first nominated Lynch to be the nation’s 83rd attorney general back in November, shortly after Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation. Until now, she served as a top U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Long Island counties of Suffolk and Nassau.
“I am very pleased Loretta Lynch has now been confirmed, and America will be better off for it,” Obama said on Thursday. “She spent her life fighting for fair and equal justice the foundation of democracy — keeping people safe and protecting equal justice.”
Despite the long delay, few Republicans questioned whether Lynch was qualified to be attorney general. The main Republican opposition to her stemmed mostly from Lynch’s support for Obama’s executive actions to shield as many as five million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“I don’t have any personal disputes with her character or abilities, but it is clear to me that the president should not nominate and the Congress should not confirm an attorney general who advocates positions that aren’t lawful,” Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions told The New York Times, referring to Obama’s executive action on immigration. “This evidences an unwillingness to enforce the law.”
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said in a statement on Thursday that he would vote for Lynch. He added, however, that he had reservations. “I strongly oppose the President’s executive actions on immigration, which I believe are illegal and unconstitutional,” he said in the statement. “I raised those issues with Ms. Lynch and she assured me during our meeting and in writing that she will give nationwide effect to the court order currently blocking the implementation of the President’s executive order.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid remarked on the Republican support for Lynch during an interview with msnbc’s Rachel Maddow. “In fact, we had Republicans — McCain, McConnell, Lindsey Graham — saying what a good woman she was,” he told her. “Suddenly, they’re not allowing her to have a vote. And they’re basing it on such shallow evidence. We’re here trying to have a woman confirmed as attorney general of the United States, and they’re off on some abortion issue someplace. It’s ridiculous.”
Reid vowed during the interview, which took place on Friday, that he would force a vote if the Senate did not move forward with her confirmation.