When Loretta Lynch was finally confirmed by the Senate this week as U.S. attorney general, she received 10 Republican votes -- many fewer than she should have received but more than were expected given the GOP majority’s recent hyper-partisanship. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voted for Lynch.
One widely held theory was offered by the publication the Hill: “Four of the chamber’s most vulnerable GOP incumbents — Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) — voted to confirm Lynch, who faced a long delay in being confirmed as the first African-American female to head the Justice Department.”
Lynch also got the vote of Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who, as my colleague Lisa Mascaro pointed out, “relied on primarily Democratic African American voters to beat back a tea party primary challenger last year in a highly unusual campaign strategy.”
If Lynch’s race and her support among African Americans gained her Republican votes, it casts doubt on the idea racism was factor in the Senate’s slowness to confirm her. Yet that meme was in wide circulation as the Lynch nomination languished.
In a Huffington Post column headlined “The Loretta Lynch Saga: The True Meaning & Dog Whistles,” the Rev. Al Sharpton wrote that “the fact that this highly accomplished black woman had to wait for this vote twice as long as her seven predecessors combined is insulting and inexcusable.” The delay proved that, for Republicans, “blacks, women and quote 'others’ are expendable.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the deputy Democratic leader, insinuated that Lynch was a victim of racial discrimination by comparing her to civil-rights pioneer Rosa Parks. “Loretta Lynch, the first African American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar,” Durbin said.
Talk about dog whistles.
There wasn’t a scintilla of evidence that action of Lynch’s nomination was held up because of her race. She was rather the victim of color-blind partisan obstructionism tied to Republican outrage over Obama’s executive action on immigration and, more recently, a dispute over abortion language in a human-trafficking bill.
Even outgoing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. poured cold (or at least cool) water on Durbin’s hypothesis. “My guess is that there is probably not a huge racial component to this, that this is really just D.C. politics, Washington at its worst,” Holder told MSNBC.
If you think white racism is a serious problem, Durbin’s casual imputation of racial prejudice to Republicans should have attracted more of an outcry. That it was mostly shrugged off is a testament to the cynicism with which even serious accusations are viewed in the nation’s capital.
To borrow Holder’s phrase, it’s Washington at its worst.
Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3