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Republicans shouldn't play games with Loretta Lynch nomination

Republicans shouldn't play games with Loretta Lynch nomination
President Obama stands by his nominee for U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch, shown speaking at a news conference last week. (Pete Marovich / Bloomberg)
There’s an easy way for Republicans to prove that they can behave responsibly now that they have captured control of the U.S. Senate: They can expeditiously confirm President Obama’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch, and not hold her nomination hostage to concessions by the president on immigration or anything else.
Expeditiously doesn’t necessarily mean confirmation during the post-election lame-duck session of Congress -- a timetable that incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes. When Holder announced his resignation in September, he said that he would be leaving the Justice Department in “the months ahead.” It wouldn’t be a disaster if the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t hold hearings on Lynch’s nomination until the new year.
What matters is that, when the hearings do take place, Republicans focus on Lynch’s credentials and her experience as a federal prosecutor in New York, and not play partisan games with the nomination.
That would be the appropriate way to handle a nomination for attorney general in any case, but Republicans have another reason to treat Lynch -- and Obama -- fairly. In selecting her, Obama tacitly made an overture to his Republican critics by picking someone who in many ways is un-Holder.

Unlike Holder, Lynch is neither a personal friend of the president’s nor someone with a pronounced political profile. Based on her career so far, she seems likely to be more circumspect and self-effacing than Holder, who treated the attorney general’s office as a bully pulpit and wasn’t above lecturing both members of Congress and a U.S. population that he described as “essentially a nation of cowards” when it came to discussing race.

Obama did consider other more provocative candidates, notably Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, a former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and a favorite of progressives, and former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler. (Republicans would have been sure to question promoting the promotion of a White House staffer to the AG’s position, though they didn’t object when Ed Meese and Alberto Gonzales made the same migration during Republican administrations.)

It's appropriate for senators to question Lynch about her views about the law, but there are signs that some Republicans want to press her to repudiate Obama policies -- particularly his announced intention to take some sort of executive action to defer the deportation of additional immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) already have demanded a statement from Lynch about "whether or not she believes the president's executive amnesty plans are constitutional and legal." They implied that, if she were to endorse Obama's plan, that would show she lacked "full and complete commitment to the law."

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This is partisan mischief. It's possible that, if confirmed, Lynch might be asked to weigh in on the legality of whatever Obama decides to do, perhaps after a review by lawyers in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. (That assumes the president doesn't act before the hearings.) But conditioning Lynch's confirmation on her supplying the "right" (i.e., anti-Obama) answer about the legality of a hypothetical executive action would be an abuse of the process.

Twitter: @MichaelMcGough3

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