After Long Delay, Senate Confirms Lynch as Attorney General

After Long Delay, Senate Confirms Lynch as Attorney General
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The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Loretta Lynch as the next attorney general of the United States, ending a months-long and at times ugly partisan battle over her nomination.

The vote was slightly less narrow than expected, with 56 senators supporting her confirmation – all 46 Democrats and 10 Republicans – and 43 GOP senators voting against her. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican running for president in 2016, did not vote.

Lynch will be the first African-American woman to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official. She replaces Eric Holder, who had been a thorn in the side of Republicans for most of his time running the Justice Department.

President Obama said in a statement that the country will be “better off” with Lynch as attorney general.

“Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy,” he said. “As head of the Justice Department, she will oversee a vast portfolio of cases, including counterterrorism and voting rights; public corruption and white-collar crime; judicial recommendations and policy reviews – all of which matter to the lives of every American, and shape the story of our country.”

Though Lynch was nominated back in November, the five-month process towards Thursday’s confirmation was not an easy one. Democrats declined to push her confirmation in late 2014 after losing control of the Senate in the midterm elections, choosing instead to press forward on a number of judicial nominations. When Republicans took control of the chamber in January, it took nearly six weeks before Lynch appeared before the Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing.

At that hearing, Democrats unanimously cheered Lynch’s qualifications to the role, lauding her work as a district attorney in New York. Republicans expressed their frustration with Holder and their desire to see him replaced, but hammered Lynch with questions about how she would handle Obama’s executive actions on immigration late last year. (Obama moved to delay deportation for possibly millions of undocumented immigrants, which most in the GOP consider an unconstitutional breach of his power.) When Lynch indicated that she agreed with the legal justification for the executive orders, many Republicans were swayed against voting for her.

Nonetheless, she cleared the panel by a 12-8 vote, with three GOP senators backing her. In the intervening months, two more Republicans signed on, making her confirmation almost certain, if not by much. But the vote continued to be delayed as the Senate fell into a prolonged debate over an abortion provision in legislation on human trafficking, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowing that he wouldn’t bring up Lynch for a vote until that matter was settled. Lawmakers reached a compromise Tuesday, and quickly moved to vote on Lynch.

Cruz was aggressive in questioning the nominee during her hearing, and has been a consistent voice of opposition to her nomination since. He spoke on the Senate floor Thursday morning, saying he was eager to see Holder replaced but could not support Lynch as that replacement.

“Eric Holder has abused the office and has turned it, in many respects, into a partisan arm of the Democratic Party,” Cruz said. “He is the only attorney general in the history of the United States to be held in contempt of Congress.”

As for Lynch, however, he said her answers at the hearing made her “unsuitable for confirmation.”

Despite this vocal opposition, and voting against cloture – the method to end a filibuster and move on to her confirmation vote – Cruz missed the final vote because he had to catch a flight for a commitment in Texas, according to spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. Cruz is scheduled to attend a fundraiser for his presidential campaign Thursday evening.

“As you know Sen. Cruz led the charge to oppose her nomination, in interviews, op-eds and a floor speech today,” Frazier told RCP in an email. “Those responsible for her confirmation are the ones who voted for cloture.”

Democrats were joyous that Lynch was finally confirmed, with Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, calling it a “historic day.”

“I am confident she will be an exemplary attorney general, and will bring disparate parts of communities across the country together, just as she did in Brooklyn,” Schumer said in a statement. “She will pour every ounce of her energy into keeping America safe, upholding the rule of law, and protecting and restoring voting rights that have been under assault for far too long.”

As for Republicans, 10 ultimately supported her nomination, including McConnell. Several of those GOP senators face potentially tough re-election battles in 2016, including Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Jeff Flake of Arizona, who supported Lynch in the judiciary committee and voted for her on the Senate floor, said in a statement that he disagrees with the incoming AG on policy, but that the president should get his Cabinet picks unless there is something disqualifying about them.

“Furthermore, with Loretta Lynch confirmed, Eric Holder's tenure as head of the Department of Justice draws to a close,” Flake added. “Not a bad day in Washington.”

RCP’s Alexis Simendinger and Rebecca Berg contributed to this report.

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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