Loretta Lynch passes key Senate hurdle. Set to be next attorney general?

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Loretta Lynch, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. The vote was 12 to 8, with three Republicans voting in favor.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch appears on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 28, 2015. The Senate Judiciary Committee is moving toward a vote on Lynch's nomination to be attorney general. Lynch is expected to win approval. Democrats are backing her strongly ahead of the vote. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont calls her a superb prosecutor.

Loretta Lynch cleared a major Senate procedural hurdle on Thursday and now looks all but certain to be confirmed as the next attorney general of the United States.

That does not sit well with some conservatives, who argue that her support for President Obama’s immigration policies should disqualify her from serving as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

“The president’s policy is to allow people unlawfully here to take jobs in America – a policy she has explicitly stated she intends to defend,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama. “We should not confirm someone to that position who intends to continue that unlawful policy.”

Ms. Lynch is currently the highest-ranking federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y. If confirmed, she would succeed Eric Holder, a combative liberal whom many Republicans would like to see replaced. That’s another factor at play in a nomination that’s become entwined with a number of issues outside of Lynch’s professional qualifications.

These complications have lengthened Lynch’s nomination period. It’s been almost four months since Mr. Obama tapped her as Mr. Holder’s replacement – the longest such wait for an up-or-down confirmation vote in modern US history, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Republicans note that Obama resubmitted the nomination on Jan. 7 after Republicans took control of the Senate.)

On Thursday, the Judiciary panel approved Lynch’s nomination, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. The vote was 12 to 8, with three Republicans joining all nine committee Democrats in favor.

The GOP lawmakers were Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They’d previously announced support for Lynch, rendering Thursday’s vote somewhat moot. Some conservatives denounced them as sellouts, as further proof that much of the Washington GOP establishment, particularly senior senators, are not really interested in fighting as hard as they can for principles they say they believe in.

“Did the 2014 midterms really happen? Less than three months after a red tide rolled over the country, the Senate Republican Rollover Caucus is back to its default position in Washington, D.C.,” wrote conservative pundit Michelle Malkin after it became apparent earlier this month that Lynch would gain Senate Judiciary Committee approval.

Under Senate rules pushed through by then-majority leader Harry Reid (D) in 2013, filibustering nominations isn’t allowed, except for Supreme Court nominees. That means Lynch will need four or more GOP votes on the Senate floor to win confirmation. Presumably, she’ll still have the backing of Senators Hatch, Flake, and Graham. It’s likely she’ll pick up at least one more from blue or purple state Republican lawmakers such as Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois or Susan Collins of Maine.

So if Democrats stay solidly behind her, she’s got a very good chance of soon taking the helm of the Justice Department. She’d be the first African-American woman to do so.

As to Republicans frustrated that their party has lost yet another means of influence it might use to try to block Obama’s immigration actions, Graham had a somewhat provocative retort.

“To those who really believe this is a constitutional overreach of historic proportions, you have impeachment available to you,” he said.

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