Loretta Lynch’s nearly stalled attorney general nomination is becoming rallying cry for liberals who say Republicans are purposefully delaying a vote.
Some black leaders suggested Tuesday Lynch’s race could be playing a role in the delay of her confirmation.
President Barack Obama nominated Lynch, who would be the first African-American woman to lead the Justice Department, in November.
“Never ever did we expect that it would take four months in order to get this done. So then one must wonder, what are the reasons? I think race certainly can be considered as a major factor in the reason for this delay, but it’s also the irrationality of the new Republicans,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, on a conference call Tuesday. Butterfield said the GOP has been influenced by its “extreme Tea Party right wing.”
Republicans point out Lynch would be replacing a black attorney general, Eric Holder.
The moves come after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Lynch nomination would not be brought up for a vote until the chamber completes consideration of a now-controversial bill to combat human trafficking.
Senate Democrats, who are opposed to an anti-abortion provision included in what had been a bipartisan bill, blocked debate on the legislation in a Tuesday morning vote. Afterward, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas took to the Senate floor and praised McConnell’s strategy.
“I’m grateful to the majority leader, the senator from Kentucky, for saying we’re going to come back and vote again and again and again on this human trafficking bill until it passes,” Cornyn said. “And he’s not going to schedule the nomination confirmation vote on the next attorney general until such time as we get this passed.”
In a press conference immediately after that procedural vote, Senate Democrats said the fight over abortion rights had nothing to do with Lynch’s qualifications and should not stand in the way of her confirmation nearly three weeks after the judiciary committee paved the way for her consideration by the full Senate.
“It’s been 19 days since her nomination was available to be brought to the floor, but so far Republicans haven’t lifted a finger. The previous five nominees for attorney general only had to wait a combined 18 days for a vote in the full Senate,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, pointing to a poster of the scales of justice showing Lynch and the last five nominees. “The Senate can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can approve nominees while we work through legislation and that’s what we ought to do.”
Lynch is a two-time U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and has been recognized by members of both parties as a highly qualified and successful prosecutor.
The fight over her nomination has engaged politicians and ordinary Americans from far beyond the Beltway.
Even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal favorite, weighed in on Twitter Tuesday, saying, “Loretta Lynch is an accomplished leader. She deserves a fair confirmation hearing and vote. Retweet to tell Congress: End the delay.”
His message follows a tweet on Monday by likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton bashing Republicans for blocking the “1st African American woman AG, for longer than any AG in 30 years.”
Butterfield joined other black leaders on a press call Tuesday morning. The group called on black media outlets and members of the public to ramp up the pressure on McConnell to bring Lynch’s nomination to the floor, including by calling his office.
“I speak for the Congressional Black Caucus and I can tell you that the CBC is disturbed – that’s putting it mildly – we are greatly disturbed that this confirmation has now taken more than four months to work its way through the Senate,” Butterfield said. “The sad thing about it is the votes are there today to get her confirmed. There’s no question about it. If Sen. McConnell would put this nomination committee report on the floor today, she would be the attorney general by the time the sun sets this afternoon.”
As of now, GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona publicly support Lynch, but Schumer suggested that Republican support could falter if Lynch’s confirmation vote is delayed too long.
The press call included Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, Dr. Paulette C. Walker, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Even as McConnell hopes pressure will build on Democrats to relent on the human trafficking bill, a delegation of about 30 women activists, arriving by chartered bus from Lynch’s home state of North Carolina, was set to descend on Capitol Hill to lobby members about her nomination.
The delegation, headed by North Carolina NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, held a joint meeting with Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to urge them to support Lynch. Neither has indicated they would do so.
The arguments Lynch supporters made Tuesday echoed those coming from the White House and other Democrats who have called the delay in confirming Lynch “unconscionable” and “outrageous.”
Henderson said Lynch’s nomination was the “most mishandled and manipulated confirmation process in memory” and Fudge called into question McConnell’s leadership.
The national leader of Lynch’s sorority said both race and gender could be playing a role here.
“The fact that she is a woman, the fact that she is black I think plays a major and a pivotal role in why the delay has taken as long,” Walker said.
But the delay in Lynch’s confirmation could create a perception problem for Republicans, said the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Ifill, who argued that Lynch performed well in her confirmation hearings.
“When women all over this country see the right person for the job at the right time flawlessly perform and still be denied the opportunity for an up or down vote on being able to get the job, it sends a very toxic message,” she said.
Asked about the allegations about race being a factor, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said, “The only thing holding up a vote on the Lynch nomination is the Democrats’ filibuster of a bill that would help prevent kids from being sold into sex slavery. Once they get over that, we can move to the Senate’s next item; the Lynch nomination.”
Tuesday’s failure by the Senate to advance the human trafficking bill may mean the Senate will run out of time to consider Lynch’s nomination ahead of the two-week Easter recess, since McConnell plans to move to consideration of the budget next. That means Lynch may not get a vote before mid-April.