Why is Senate committee delaying vote on Loretta Lynch nomination?

Senate Democrats say that the GOP is stalling the nomination process for Loretta Lynch, President Obama's attorney general pick. Republicans say they have additional questions and are not looking for a 'big fistfight.'

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa (r.), accompanied by the committee's ranking member, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont (c.), greets attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 28, prior to the start of her confirmation hearing before the committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday delayed for two weeks a vote on whether to send President Obama’s nomination for attorney general to the full Senate.

Chairman Charles Grassley said that he and other Republican members of the committee still had questions of Loretta Lynch that they wanted answered. 

Ms. Lynch testified during a day-long hearing on Jan. 28, fielding questions from the senators. She has also responded to 220 pages of written follow-up questions.

Lynch is currently the US attorney for the Brooklyn-based Eastern District of New York. If confirmed, as expected, she will become the first African-American woman to serve as the nation’s attorney general.

During the committee’s executive meeting on Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and several other Democratic senators objected to what they said was an excessive delay in the Lynch nomination.

Senator Leahy said the committee should vote immediately to send Lynch’s nomination to the Senate floor.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California agreed. “Clearly, she has been treated differently. I have never seen a witness in my 26 years in the Senate do better in a hearing,” Senator Feinstein said.

She said that despite Lynch’s qualifications and exceptional performance in the hearing, Republicans were seeking to delay the process. Feinstein compared the amount of time that had passed since Lynch’s nomination to the time it took for other attorney general nominees to receive a committee vote.

For Janet Reno it took 26 days, John Ashcroft 42 days, Alberto Gonzales 46 days, Michael Mukasey 53 days, and Eric Holder 64 days.

Feinstein said that so far the Lynch nomination has been pending for 96 days. She said if it is held over for another two weeks, it would be 107 days.  

Several Republicans disputed the number. They noted that Lynch was first nominated last fall when Democrats controlled the Senate. Her nomination was resubmitted by Mr. Obama on Jan. 7 after Republicans took control of the chamber.

Counting from that date, the amount of time prior to a committee vote now stands at 36 days.

Among Republicans requesting a delay was Sen. David Vitter (R) of Louisiana, who said he wants additional information about why a bank accused of laundering money from Mexican drug traffickers was allowed to pay a fine rather than face criminal prosecution.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R) of North Carolina said he wants more information about how Lynch intends to tackle management issues at a Justice Department that he said has been mismanaged under Attorney General Eric Holder.  

“I am simply trying to do my job and do a thorough interview,” he said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York said that some Republicans were opposed to Lynch’s nomination because she refused during her confirmation hearing to criticize Obama’s executive action on immigration.

Senator Schumer said that Lynch would “never” say that the president’s actions were illegal or unconstitutional.

In a response to a written question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, Lynch said the administration’s legal analysis of the executive action “appears reasonable.”

“Let’s just vote,” Schumer said. “I don’t believe there is an excuse to delay the nomination of such an exceptional nominee.”

In the debate over the president’s executive action on immigration, many Republicans say Obama usurped the authority of the legislative branch by selectively enforcing some immigration statutes and ignoring others. A legal challenge is pending in the courts.

In addition, Republicans in Congress are seeking to block Obama’s immigration action through an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. The legislation is stalled in the Senate after being blocked three times by Democratic filibusters.

The department’s funding runs out at the end of the month, and Senator Cruz had suggested holding up the Lynch confirmation unless the Homeland Security funding bill – with its restrictive amendment – is passed by the Senate.

The Cruz suggestion to link the two issues was rejected.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah tried to offer an olive branch to Democrats on the committee.

“I don’t think we have to have a big fistfight over this,” he said. The rules of the committee, he noted, allow for senators to request more time to consider a nominee before a committee vote.

“I support her. I think she has all the qualifications that are needed,” Senator Hatch said.

He added: “I want her to pass. I’d like to have my colleagues vote for her.”

With the delay, the committee vote is now expected to take place the last week in February. The nomination would then move to the full Senate for a final vote.

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