At first blush, it seemed like progress yesterday when senators argued about Loretta Lynch's pending nomination as the next Attorney General, but the headway was illusory -- they were debating the wrong thing.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) argued that the Republican majority was asking the first African-American woman ever nominated for A.G. for "sit in the back of the bus," which led to a bitter dispute. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who expressed support for Lynch before changing his mind without explanation, took offense to the Rosa Parks analogy.
Away from the drama, however, a different realization was setting in: the Senate wrapped up its work for the week late yesterday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had given his word that the Lynch nomination would receive a vote this week, and with the announcement that there would be no more roll-call votes until next week, we now know McConnell broke his vow, making a promise he chose not to keep.
In theory, that might seem problematic, and Senate Democrats are understandably furious. But as Politico reported overnight, the Republican majority has made clear that it just doesn't care.
"Zero," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said when asked how much pressure his party is feeling to confirm [Lynch] to the Justice Department position. Why not? "Because there's zero," he reiterated.
Lynch was nominated 132 days ago. The first African-American woman ever considered for this post has waited longer for a vote than any A.G. nominee in history, and longer than the last five A.G. nominees combined. Even her fiercest critics have struggled to raise substantive objections to her qualifications, background, temperament, or judgment.
But the GOP line is, Lynch will simply be ignored, indefinitely, unless Democrats vote for an unrelated bill with anti-abortion language in it.
To be sure, Congress has fallen on hard times since 2011, but this is still an embarrassment to an institution that hardly needed yet another fiasco.
What's more, let's not forget that the delay is likely to continue. Next week, the Senate is likely to take up the Republican budget plan, and a week from today, the Senate leaves for a two-week break.
It seems entirely possible, if not likely, that Lynch won't even be considered until mid-April. It's also possible that the GOP majority may choose to permanently ignore Lynch, leaving Eric Holder in office through January 2017.
Postscript: FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten argues that Lynch is receiving "unusual" treatment, but not "unprecedented" treatment since a couple of other cabinet-level nominees have faced longer delays. That's true, though among Attorney General nominees, Lynch is in a league of her own.