AG Nominee Lynch Deflects Cruz Missile

AG Nominee Lynch Deflects Cruz Missile
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Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of President Obama's most vocal critics, asked Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch for the third time: did she agree with Obama's executive order deferring deportation of undocumented immigrants?

Lynch stuck to her position.

“Senator, I've told you that I did find the analysis to be reasonable, I did find it to recognize the issues, and it did seem to provide a reasonable basis,” Lynch responded.

Cruz was looking for a yes or no, but he didn’t get it.

The two were calm and polite throughout the exchange Wednesday, but it was one of the more contentious moments at the first Cabinet-level confirmation hearing under the new Republican-controlled Senate.

Lynch fielded more than six hours of questions from senators about the death penalty, voting rights, cyber security, marijuana legalization and a wealth of other issues she’d face as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

But time and again, the questions came back to two things: immigration and her would-be predecessor, current Attorney General Eric Holder.

They also questioned her extensively about how she would run the Department of Justice differently than Holder, whose policies often drew the ire of Congressional Republicans.

Lynch defended the legality of Obama’s November immigration action – which Republicans consider lawless and unconstitutional -- multiple times, calling the legal analysis “reasonable.” She also pledged to be open and work with Congress, even on issues where there is disagreement.

The Lynch hearing went on all day, with only a short break for lunch. She faced questions from all 20 senators on the Judiciary Committee – 11 Republicans and nine Democrats. It was somewhat scattered at points as senators raced back and forth between the hearing and the Senate floor, where they were voting on 18 new amendments to the Keystone pipeline bill.

In the opening question of the day, newly minted Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley asked Lynch whether she believed President Obama had the legal authority to defer deportations under executive action, a move he made last November.

Lynch said she was not privy to decisions that led to that executive action and didn’t know the plans of the Department of Homeland Security to implement it, but defended Obama’s legal authority to defer the deportations.

In a carefully worded response, Lynch said she had read the opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel laying out the legal authority for the action and that she didn’t “see any reason to doubt the reasonableness of those views.”

Other Republican senators, including Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and David Vitter of Louisiana, used many of their opening questions to hammer home their frustration over the immigration decision. Vitter announced back in December that he would oppose Lynch’s nomination unless she opposed Obama’s executive action.

Cruz repeatedly questioned Lynch about Office of Legal Counsel’s memos during his first round of questioning. After acknowledging that she declared it reasonable earlier, Cruz asked multiple times whether she agreed with that analysis.

“Ms. Lynch, I would note that I've twice asked you if you agree with the analysis. And you are a very talented lawyer, and so I suspect it is not an accident that twice, you have not answered that question,” Cruz said. “You have described what OLC did but not given a simple answer. Do you agree with that analysis or not?”

Lynch repeated that she “did find the analysis to be reasonable” in the same even tone she’d used all day. She thanked the senators and pledged to work closely with each on issues they care about. She’s widely expected to be confirmed by the committee and by the full Senate later this year.

“I do pledge to this committee that I want to hear your concerns, I want to listen to your concerns and I will always be open to discussing those issues with you,” Lynch said.

Democrats on the committee praised Lynch for her record as a U.S. attorney in New York and for her qualifications for the position. Several senators criticized their Republican colleagues for politicizing the hearing. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who introduced Lynch along with his colleague Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, said no arguments could be made that Lynch is not qualified to be AG.

“So instead, some are trying to drag extraneous issues – executive orders on immigration, the IRS – into the fray to challenge her nomination because they can't find anything in her record to point to,” Schumer said. “Let me be clear, attempts to politicize this nomination, to turn this exceptional nominee into a political point-scoring exercise are a disservice to the qualified candidate we have before us today.”

Along with the extensive questioning about immigration, Republicans on the committee brought up a number of issues from Holder’s tenure running DOJ, including the Fast and Furious and IRS scandals that have been repeatedly used to criticize Holder. They questioned Lynch on how she would differ from Holder.

“Let me, for Sen. Schumer's benefit, let me just stipulate, you're not Eric Holder, are you?” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said.

“No, I'm not, sir,” Lynch replied.

“No one is suggesting that you are, but of course, Attorney General Holder's record is heavy on our minds now,” Cornyn said. “And I agree with the chairman about his concerns when the attorney general refers to himself as the president's wingman, suggesting that he is not -- does not exercise independent legal judgment as the chief law enforcement officer for the country.”

Cornyn then asked Lynch whether she considered the attorney general to be a political arm of the White House. She called that a “totally inappropriate” view of the position.

She said she thought it was the job of the AG to provide legal analysis and, when there is no legal justification for a decision, to tell the president no.

Asked by Cruz how she would differ from Holder, she said, for the second time during the hearing, “I will be Loretta Lynch.” 

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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