The many challenges of replacing Eric Holder

Updated 9:22 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
02:32 - Source: CNN
Obama announces Eric Holder's resignation

Story highlights

Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation Thursday

Holder is a close friend of President Obama

November elections could complicate the nomination and confirmation process

White House officials say they're confident whoever is chosen will have bipartisan support

(CNN) —  

While Attorney General Eric Holder had made clear that he wanted to leave the post before the end of Obama’s second term, the announcement of his departure just before midterm elections took many by surprise and the timing could complicate the effort to replace him.

Choosing a new attorney general and getting approval in a Senate confirmation hearing will be difficult for the White House. While the list of strong candidates who could assume the role is long, congressional politics will make it difficult to get Senate approval for just about anyone.

Plus, while he has endured his share of controversies, Holder is also President Barack Obama’s very close friend and confidant, someone for whom the President consistently communicated his full support.

“We have been great colleagues, but the bonds between us are much deeper than that,” Holder said Thursday in a joint statement with Obama, announcing his departure. “I’m proud to call you my friend.”

When a replacement might be announced is unknown. Obama thanked Holder for his service Thursday but offered no timeline for announcing a nominee to replace him. Holder pledged to stay on the job until a nominee is selected and confirmed by the Senate, and in doing that, he might have agreed to stay on for a while longer.

Who could replace Holder as attorney general?

The Senate is the biggest obstacle. Holder’s announcement comes just weeks before the midterm elections, in which Republicans have a solid chance of reclaiming the majority. Congress, currently on recess while members campaign for re-election, will have a lame duck session in November and December in which a confirmation hearing could be pushed through. But Congress will have a lot on its plate during that session, most notably a possible vote to expand Obama’s authority to execute his military offensive against ISIS. It’s possible that a confirmation hearing will take place in the next Congress, in 2015, when Republicans could be in control.

White House officials insisted they weren’t concerned about this possibility.

“I do anticipate that Democrats will hold the Senate,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday. “That said, I also anticipate that whoever the nominee is will earn and ultimately receive bipartisan support.”

But in the current political climate, bipartisan support is far from certain for any administration appointee, particularly one as high profile as Holder’s replacement.

The other issue is less tactical – it’s the personal factor. Obama and Holder are good friends, and Holder is a part of the Obama inner circle that includes key adviser Valerie Jarrett, whom Holder thanked Thursday as someone who he had “been fortunate to work with since the beginning of what started as an improbable, idealistic effort by a young senator from Illinois.”

Furthermore, the issues that Holder has championed – voting rights, LGBT rights and reducing prison sentences for low-level drug offenders – are important aspects of Obama’s legacy, so this pick will, in all likelihood, be an incredibly important one for him.

Obama gave no hints about possible replacements in his goodbye remarks to Holder, offering only a tidbit of what he’s looking for in an attorney general: “I chose him to serve as attorney general because he believes, as I do, that justice is not just an abstract theory – it’s a living and breathing principle.”