WASHINGTON – In a sane world, the Republican-led Senate would have confirmed Loretta Lynch as attorney general months ago. But sanity hasn’t been seen around here in some time.
No one has raised the slightest question about Lynch’s qualifications. No one disputes that she has been a tough, effective U.S. attorney and a strong manager. No one doubts she is fully capable of serving as the nation’s top law enforcement official – or fails to appreciate the importance of the job.
And no one denies that holding up Lynch’s nomination – she’s been waiting since November – is, for Republican senators, clearly and bizarrely self-defeating. As long as Lynch remains unconfirmed, Attorney General Eric Holder stays in the post. On the list of officials whom Republicans would most like to run out of town, President Barack Obama would be first and Holder a close second.
So by refusing to move ahead with Lynch, Republican senators are keeping Holder in office. While they’re at it, perhaps they should send him flowers.
Last week, Obama called the delay “embarrassing” and pressed senators to act. “It’s gone too far. Enough. Enough. Call Loretta Lynch for a vote,” he said. “Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let her do her job.”
Ah, but nothing is straightforward when congressional Republicans are embroiled in one of their epic struggles to get out of their own way. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has allowed his party’s best interests – and those of the nation – to be held hostage by three issues. One is tiresome, one extraneous and one nonsensical.
The first holdup, which should be no surprise, is that most Republican senators feel obliged to oppose anything Obama proposes, especially this close to an election year. So even though the Senate has twice confirmed Lynch as U.S. attorney, and even though she passed every substantive test in her Senate hearings with flying colors, all but a handful of GOP senators will likely vote against her. Assuming she gets a vote.
The second impediment is that Senate Democrats are holding up action on a bill to combat human trafficking because they object to the legislation’s anti-abortion provisions. I understand that abortion is a matter of principle on which it is difficult to compromise. But this is precisely why it cannot be used to hold completely unrelated Senate business hostage. Otherwise, nothing would ever get done.
Oh, wait, hardly anything does get done. But what sense does it make to slow the Senate from a crawl to a dead halt?
The last obstacle is that Lynch, at her confirmation hearing, said she believed Obama was within his presidential authority when he took sweeping executive action reforming immigration policy.
As I said, sanity has left the building. What on Earth would Lynch be expected to say? That the president who placed her name in nomination has illegally usurped the prerogatives of Congress? That as soon as she takes office, perhaps, she will try to undo the measures enacted by her boss?
Congress can modify the immigration laws however it wants – but chooses not to. Rather than do their job – persuade House Republicans to take up the comprehensive reform bill that the Senate has already passed – some GOP senators prefer to grandstand by imposing a litmus test on Lynch, who had nothing to do with Obama’s immigration orders.
So Lynch waits, Holder continues in the job and the optics for Republicans are not good: Lynch would be the first black woman to serve as attorney general. Democrats first hinted and now openly suggest that Lynch is being treated differently than if she were a white male nominee. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., outraged GOP senators when he charged that Lynch is being “asked to sit in the back of the bus.”
I would prefer to believe that what’s at work here is neither racism nor sexism but a continuation of the self-destructive political gamesmanship that Republicans prefer over actual governance. McConnell keeps promising to bring Lynch’s name to the floor one of these days, and she needs only a handful of GOP votes to win confirmation. At present, she seems likely to get them – but there is little margin for error.
The thing is, many Republican senators actually like Lynch but won’t vote for her. Unless, perhaps, Obama denounces his own nominee.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.