The Senate was expected to vote this week on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general, more than four months after President Obama announced that the veteran prosecutor was his choice to succeed Eric H. Holder Jr. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said over the weekend that he will delay that vote until the Senate resolves partisan differences over a bill designed to assist victims of human trafficking. Democrats have objected to anti-abortion language in the legislation.
It's specious for McConnell to suggest that a vote on Lynch must await approval of the trafficking legislation. There is no reason the Senate can't vote on the nomination and continue consideration of the bill. As Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted, members voted Thursday on four other nominations while the trafficking bill was before the Senate, and votes on two more nominations were scheduled for Monday evening. The more plausible interpretation of McConnell's remarks is that a vote on Lynch is being used as leverage to win Democratic support for the trafficking bill.
Obama chose Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, on Nov. 8, but her nomination wasn't acted on by the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee until Feb. 26, when she was approved on a 12-8 vote. Now McConnell is threatening further delays. By contrast, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who was nominated a month after Lynch was, received Senate confirmation Feb. 12.
Carter was an experienced and well-qualified candidate, but so is Lynch, who has been confirmed twice by the Senate for previous appointments. She received high praise from Republican senators after her nomination was announced. But some Republicans want to punish her for refusing to repudiate Obama's executive action deferring deportation for millions of immigrants in the country illegally. That helps to explain why only three Republicans on the Judiciary Committee supported her nomination, and why the outcome of a final vote is likely to be uncomfortably — and unjustifiably — close. (Some Democrats worry that additional delay, combined with Republican grandstanding on immigration, might make it impossible for Lynch to achieve the required majority when a vote is finally held.)
Ironically, the delay has left Holder, who has long been a bete noire for many Republicans, in charge at Justice — and has had no effect on Obama's immigration actions. Those actions are currently being challenged in court; Republicans should be content to let that process go forward and evaluate Lynch strictly on her stellar qualifications. In any case, she is entitled to a prompt up-or-down vote. McConnell should end his obstructionism.