Loretta Lynch: GOP likely to confirm new Attorney General. But when?

Loretta Lynch has the qualifications to be the next Attorney General, plus she comes without the political baggage Eric Holder accumulated butting heads with Republicans in Congress. Still, the White House is unlikely to push for early confirmation.

Susan Walsh/AP
US Attorney Loretta Lynch in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Saturday after President Obama nominated her to be the next Attorney General succeeding Eric Holder.

Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s pick to replace retiring US Attorney General Eric Holder, would appear to be an ideal candidate designed not to raise any confirmation roadblocks among Republicans soon to take control of the US Senate.

She has a strong record as a crime-fighting US Attorney “who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists and still has the reputation for being a charming people person," as Obama put it in introducing Ms. Lynch Saturday.

Plus, she is not Mr. Holder – a former judge and US Attorney who led what GOP critics charged was a highly-political Department of Justice, once being held in contempt of Congress.

“I’m hopeful that her tenure, if confirmed, will restore confidence in the Attorney General as a politically independent voice for the American people,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The key question is, how quickly will Republicans be willing to move on Lynch’s confirmation? Before the end of the year, while Democrats still hold a Senate majority? Or not at least until January when they become the majority and a Republican – Sen. Grassley –  chairs the hearings?

Grassley promises that Lynch “will receive “a very fair, but thorough, vetting by the Judiciary Committee,” but he also notes that  “US Attorneys are rarely elevated directly to this position.”

Republicans, whether they’re in the majority or not, are likely to use the hearings as a vehicle to make points about Obama administration actions and policies they have fought – IRS probing (they would say harassment) of conservative political groups, the Affordable Health Care Act, and immigration.

Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah are set to pounce on immigration – specifically, Obama’s pledge to take executive action on immigration by year’s end without waiting for Congress, including relief from deportation to several million people in the United States illegally. 

"The Attorney General is the President's chief law enforcement officer. As such, the nominee must demonstrate full and complete commitment to the law. Loretta Lynch deserves the opportunity to demonstrate those qualities, beginning with a statement whether or not she believes the President’s executive amnesty plans are constitutional and legal," Cruz and Lee said in a statement Saturday.

GOP Senators Jeff Sessions, Rand Paul, and soon-to-be majority leader Mitch McConnell have made similar statements.

So far, Democrats aren’t pushing for early confirmation hearings. They’re mainly focusing on Lynch’s qualifications and the fact that she’s already been confirmed – twice – as US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has been noncommittal on when confirmation hearings should begin. “I have spoken with the President about the need to confirm our next attorney general in a reasonable time period, and I look forward to beginning that process,” he said in a statement.

So far, that seems to be OK with the White House.

Obama decided against the option of trying to push Lynch's confirmation while Democrats still control the Senate and instead will leave it up to the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on the choice in 2015, according to the people who described Obama's plans, the Associated Press reports. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have told the White House it would be difficult to win confirmation for a new attorney general during the lame-duck session of Congress beginning next week, especially considering all the other competing priorities they face before relinquishing power to Republicans in January. Pushing through a nominee so quickly could have tainted the new attorney general's start in the office.

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