President Barack Obama on Friday accused the Republican-led U.S. Senate of holding Loretta Lynch, his nominee for U.S. attorney general, as a "hostage" as lawmakers wrangle over a human trafficking bill bogged down in an abortion dispute.
Obama nominated Lynch, the Brooklyn federal prosecutor, in November to replace the retiring Eric Holder as the nation's top law enforcement official. If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the first black woman to serve in the post.
"You don't hold attorney general nominees hostage for other issues," Obama said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "This is our top law enforcement office. Nobody denies that she's well-qualified. We need to go ahead and get her done."
The human trafficking legislation had been expected to attract broad bipartisan support, but most Democrats are blocking it to protest anti-abortion language inserted by Republicans. In turn, Republicans have linked Lynch's fate to passage of the bill.
Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, this week suggested race as a factor in holding up the nomination, saying Republicans are asking Lynch to "to sit in the back of the bus," alluding to bygone segregation policies restricting black people to seats at the back of buses.
Asked if race was a factor in the Senate failing to act on Lynch's nomination, Obama said, "I don't know about that. What I do know is that she is eminently qualified. Nobody denies it."
"The fact that she has now been lingering in this limbo for longer than the five previous attorney general nominees combined makes no sense," Obama said.
Holder, appearing separately on the MSNBC cable channel, said, "My guess is that there is probably not a huge racial component to this, that this is really just D.C. politics, Washington at its worst."
Obama said Holder, who has been criticized by many Republican lawmakers, is prepared to remain on the job as long as necessary until his successor is approved.
"The irony is, of course, that the Republicans really dislike Mr. Holder. If they really want to get rid of him, the best way to do it is to go ahead and get Loretta Lynch confirmed," Obama said.