President Obama nominated U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as his choice to be Attorney General on Nov. 8. Nearly a full month later, he nominated Ash Carter to be the Secretary of Defense. Both sailed through their confirmation hearings with ease, both are eminently qualified, and both have impressed observers on both sides of the aisle.
And yet, it was Carter who was easily confirmed last week, while Lynch, despite being nominated a month earlier, continues to wait for reasons that are not entirely clear.
In late January, BuzzFeed reported that Lynch had ample, bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee, which was set to advance her nomination by Feb. 13. A confirmation vote would follow soon after, and Lynch was poised to replace Eric Holder “before the end of February.” Everything I was hearing from the Hill pointed at the identical conclusion.
As of now, however, circumstances have inexplicably changed.
President Obama’s pick to serve as the next attorney general is having a hard time finding Republican supporters. To be confirmed by the Senate, attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch only needs four Republicans to support her nomination. But it is unclear where those votes will come from.Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) is the only Republican so far who has signaled his intention to vote for Lynch, though several others have spoken favorably about her.
Senate Democrats are, by all appearances, genuinely surprised. During the Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings, Lynch was as impressive an A.G. nominee as anyone can remember. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) organized an unfortunate clown show, filled with witnesses called to testify against Lynch, but none of them actually had anything negative to say about the nominee.
So what in the world is going on here?
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wants to block her because, well, he’s Ted Cruz. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is using similar rhetoric, but he seems primarily interested in using Lynch’s nomination to collect names and contact information for his presidential bid. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is going after the A.G. nominee as part of an odd attempt at posturing in advance of his gubernatorial campaign later this year.
But in recent weeks, the idea that Lynch’s nomination might actually be derailed seemed silly, largely because there’s no reason for it. It doesn’t even serve the far-right’s interests – the more Republicans play games, the longer Eric Holder remains the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer, and the GOP makes no secret of its wild-eyed hatred for Holder.
So why balk at Lynch?
“What we’re trying to do is get an indication from her of the independence that she’s going to have from the White House,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told The Hill.“I think [Attorney General Eric] Holder is running the Justice Department like a wing of the White House,” he added. “That’s not right, and I want her to show us that she can be independent.”
Grassley, you’ll remember, had no qualms about confirming Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s woefully unqualified White House counsel, as Attorney General. But Lynch gives him pause. Hmm.
I’m trying to imagine what Lynch is supposed to say to convince Grassley, beyond her already impressive responses during her confirmation hearings. I half-expect Grassley to tell her to send him a notarized letter saying, “I super-duper swear not to be Obama’s ally.”
Indeed, given the larger context, Republicans have an extra incentive to support Lynch’s confirmation – after a series of recent controversies, backing the first African-American woman to be ever be nominated for Attorney General would, if nothing else, be a good p.r. move for the congressional majority party.
There’s no upside to the Senate GOP strategy. They look bad confirming Carter quickly, but slow-walking Lynch. They’re keeping Holder in office. They’re exacerbating partisan tensions. They’re dragging out a fight that gets them nothing except the appearance of being petty, knee-jerk partisans. And yet, Republicans are doing it anyway.
Grassley, who seems eager to prove Bruce Braley right about his unsuitability to run the Judiciary Committee, has already delayed the committee vote to Feb. 26, ostensibly to give Lynch more time to say more things that will make more Republicans happy.