WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama got it two-thirds right when he said that the delayed confirmation of his attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, is owing to Senate dysfunction and Republican stubbornness.
He left out the part about Democratic intransigence and at least one incident of “wacko-birdness” from the left.
When Sen. John McCain originally used “wacko birds” to describe a few of his Republican Senate colleagues, including now-presidential candidate Ted Cruz, he seems to have released a contagion. The U.S. Senate, once the perch of eagles, has begun to resemble an aviary of grackles. Much a-cawing about little.
Lynch’s qualifications aren’t really in question. Most agree that she’s more than up to the job, yet her confirmation has been stalled by Republicans who want something in exchange for their blessings. Within this construct are at least four moving parts that have little or nothing to do with Lynch’s confirmation – sex trafficking, abortion, race and immigration.
Republicans are demanding a (Henry) Hyde Amendment-type component to the sex-trafficking bill. This sort of restriction of federal spending for abortion has routinely been included without debate in relevant legislation for nearly 40 years. This time, Democrats say no-go.
Republicans respond: No Hyde, no Lynch.
Both points of view have merit, though neither is germane to the Lynch nomination – or necessarily apt in this particular piece of legislation. We are, after all, talking sex trafficking of mostly women and children, some of whom may have become pregnant in the process. Given that most Republicans are willing to grant exceptions to their anti-abortion stance for victims of rape or incest (the language for which is included in the Hyde Amendment), I’m not sure what either Republicans or Democrats are worried about.
Meanwhile, what does it profit the GOP to tie the confirmation of Lynch – who would be the first African American female attorney general – to legislation that needn’t be controversial?
Answer: It doesn’t. Lynch has been waiting in the wings now for longer than any other attorney general nominee in U.S. history. Republicans, principled or not, have merely opened themselves up to challenges of racism and even sexism.
Clamoring to this low branch is Sen. Dick Durbin, whose hyperbole is exceeded only by his wearying lack of originality. Republicans, he cawed, are forcing Lynch to “sit in the back of the bus.”
The “bus”? Really? The back burner, perhaps, but the Lynch debate hardly centers on race relations in America.
Durbin has earned ample criticism for his remark, but the double standard deserves a fresh airing. To wit, Durbin’s vote against Condoleezza Rice for secretary of state 10 years ago. Was he being racist?
Finally, we arrive at the fourth moving part – immigration. All but four Republican senators thus far say they won’t confirm Lynch because of her kinda, sorta, roundabout cautious embrace of Obama’s executive actions on immigration as at least “reasonable.”
At least these objections are based somewhat on concerns about legal reasoning, but are they smart? One of the GOP’s persistent flaws is picking the wrong battles – and this seems yet another.
The quid for their quo isn’t applause but fresh nourishment for three familiar narratives: Republicans wage war on women; Republicans are racists; Republicans don’t like Latinos. It doesn’t matter that these are false, just as are right-wing taunts that Obama is a Muslim who hates America.
It only matters that the narratives survive through this election cycle.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.