The White House and Senate Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with the GOP’s obstruction of Loretta Lynch’s confirmation to become America's next attorney general. Some are calling the record-delay a “travesty” while others blame what they’ve called a destructive confluence of race, gender and political gamesmanship by Senate Republicans.
On Wednesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, blasted Republicans for their treatment of Lynch, likening their handling of her confirmation to Jim Crow segregation. “The fact is there is not substantive reason to stop this nomination,” Durbin said. “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,” Durbin continued. “To think that we would jeopardize her opportunity to serve this nation and to make history is fundamentally unfair.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week he would call a vote on Lynch’s confirmation this week. But in recent days, the Kentucky Republican reversed course and instead said the vote wouldn’t happen until a human trafficking bill is put to bed, which is unlikely given a controversial abortion amendment that was added.
Lynch’s nomination has dragged out for months -- the longest delay for a would-be attorney general in modern history -- and the administration and her supporters have grown increasingly frustrated. The longer it takes for Lynch to be confirmed, the longer Attorney General Eric Holder will remain in office. Holder has been a beacon of discontent and dismay for many Republicans, and the notion that they’d delay his departure has become a bit of a punchline.
During a speech at the Center for American Progress on Wednesday, Holder joked that he’s getting a bit of unlikely love from Republicans who’re keeping around. “There is no place I would rather be in my closing days as Attorney General than with all of you. Or, at least, these should be my closing days,” Holder said. “Given the Senate’s delays in scheduling Loretta Lynch’s nomination for a vote, it’s almost as if the Republicans in Congress have discovered a new fondness for me. Where was all this affection the last six years?”
"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."'
Yet administration officials say the intentional delay of Lynch’s nomination is troubling and that by essentially holding her nomination hostage in return for a vote on an unpassable partisan bill is inexcusable.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the stall “a travesty.” “The politics that Republicans have played with her nomination are deplorable and opposition to her nomination is nothing more than a political ploy to once again use any means necessary to show their disdain for President Obama,” Butterfield said during a conference call with black leaders on and off the Hill on Tuesday afternoon. “We need to wake up America, and see this for what it is.” “I think race certainly can be considered a major factor in the delay,” Butterfield told reporters on the call.
Publicly for now the White House is sidestepping such accusations, focusing instead on the historic nature of the delay.
A White House official told msnbc that the nomination has languished for 130 days even after Lynch answered more than 600 written questions submitted by senators following her confirmation hearing. “There is absolutely no reason to delay consideration of her nomination,” the official said.
Reporters asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday if the administration believes that race has been a factor in Lynch’s confirmation battle and if the racially loaded language used by Sen. Dick Durbin earlier in the day was appropriate. Earnest said that he hadn’t seen the entirety of Durban’s statements, but said he maintains what he’d said earlier in the week about the White House’s position on Lynch. “What I have said about this certainly applies to the views of everybody in the administration, which is that the delay of her confirmation is unconscionable,” Earnest said during the daily press briefing.
Earnest called Lynch an independent career prosecutor with a sterling reputation and a strong track record from prosecuting terrorists to cracking down on Wall Street corruption. “There is no doubt about her qualifications for this job, and there is no one who has raised a legitimate concern about her ability to do this job,” Earnst said. “And that's why we believe that this delay that has now stretched beyond the delay that the five previous attorney general nominees were subjected to, combined, is one that is unacceptable.”
When asked directly by a reporter if the White House believed that race is playing a factor, Earnest steered clear. “The White House believes that there is no question about her qualifications for this job and she should be confirmed immediately,” he said.
Still, the optics of a Republican blockade of Lynch’s path to become the first black woman to lead the Justice Department don’t bode well for a party struggling with diversity issues and with the recruitment of minorities. Some say the animus first directed at Obama, America’s first black president and then Holder, the country’s first black attorney general has now been directed at Lynch.
A growing list of supporters is lining up behind Democrats and black leaders calling for immediate action on Lynch’s confirmation. Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the implications of Lynch facing the longest delay in confirmation in modern history, are clear. “All across the country women are watching, African-African American women are watching, and the civil rights community is watching,” she said.
Hilary Clinton, the former secretary of state and all but certain 2016 presidential contender, lashed out at Senate Republicans this week, saying in a series of Tweets that the by working against Lynch, the GOP is “working against women.” “Congressional trifecta against women today: 1) Blocking great nominee, 1st African American woman AG, for longer than any AG in 30 years…2) Playing politics with trafficking victims….3) Threatening women’s health & rights,” her tweets read.
Meanwhile, a Department of Justice official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the Lynch matter, said the challenges Holder has faced from the start of his tenure continue to trail him up to his last days in office. But, he said, Holder has shown no sign of slowing down or head-hanging. “If there’s any further delay as far as a confirmation for Ms. Lynch, he is prepared to stay as long as necessary,” the Justice Department official told msnbc. “Attorney General Holder is still taking meetings, still making speeches. It’s business as usual until they come closer to confirming her.” The official said the biggest downside in the whole confirmation debacle is that “a very qualified designate is ready to get to work.”
“The irony is this is someone who said in her opening statements at her confirmation that she wants to work with Congress, so it’s odd that Congress doesn’t want to work with her.” The official said that a group of Hill Democrats are currently drafting a letter to McConnell which will likely speak to the unprecedented lack of respect his delay is revealing. If a vote isn’t held by next week, it’s likely it could be held off until after the two-week Easter Recess from March 28 to April 12. “That means it will be nearly a month after [McConnell] said he was going o vote on her and that she’s out in the wind,” the official said. “While they are on vacation with their families, [Holder} somebody who has served 6 years as AG will not have that same comfort or courtesy and it’s completely unfortunate.”
So far only four GOP senators have confirmed that they’ll support Lynch’s nomination. As it stands, if every other Republican senator votes against Lynch and all the remaining Democrats vote for her, that leaves a tie. Vice President Joe Biden would then cast the tie-breaking vote.
Still, additional GOP votes for Lynch are still being sought. Sources say Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk might be swayed.
Other Senate Republicans considering voting for Lynch may have also gotten some cover from an unlikely supporter of her nomination, Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City mayor this week sent a letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, urging fellow Republicans to back Lynch. “How we treat nominees like Ms. Lynch has important Constitutional implications,” Giuliani said in the letter, first published by Politico. “The scope and the breadth of the advice and consent function of the U.S. Senate has been much debated. My interpretation has always been that a president should be given the deference to choose his Cabinet unless the nominee is unqualified to do the job, has a history of unethical behavior or is so ideologically rigid as to be incapable of making rational choices in the public interest.”
“None of these disqualifiers apply here,” Giuliani said.