At last, after a delay of more than five months, Loretta E. Lynch was narrowly confirmed as U.S. Attorney General by the Senate Thursday afternoon. She is the first African American female to hold the position.
Lynch, 55, was nominated in November by President Obama to replace Eric H. Holder, Jr., but her confirmation became entangled in an imbroglio over human trafficking, which was finally settled in a compromise on the funding proceeds from offenders.
It was clear from the earlier vote to move forward at 66 to 34 that she would be confirmed; the questioned remained which of the Republican senators would join the 44 Democrats. Ten of them did, as well as the two Independents, in the final vote of 56 to 43, with Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black senator, voting no.
Interestingly, Scott’s fellow senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham voted to confirm her, along with Orrin Hatch of Utah and Susan Collins, who spoke very passionately in support of Lynch.
“She is the embodiment of the American dream,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) said of Lynch during her supporting remarks prior to the vote. These sentiments were echoed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, who said she brings a “judicious balance” to the position and that the “only cloud is how long it took to confirm her.”
Among the Republicans to address the senate during the process was Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. From the very beginning of Lynch’s nomination, he had expressed his opposition to her succeeding Holder, insisting that she was not independent enough and “she won’t commit to a new way of doing things.” He said he had voted for Holder but now had come to regret it. The Department of Justice, he said, has become “deeply political.”
“I guess I was naïve in thinking my Republican colleagues would treat Loretta Lynch with the dignity that she and her office deserve,” Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) countered Grassley’s concerns, noting that …”my mistake was forgetting that for Republicans, this isn’t about Loretta Lynch. It’s about President Obama.”
Shying away from blaming the delay on Lynch’s race, President Obama said the entire process had taken too long. “Enough. Enough. Call Loretta Lynch for a vote. Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let her do her job.”
Lynch now is finally in place and before her is a formidable job, not the least of which is dealing with the rampant outbreak of police misconduct across the nation, most recently in Baltimore. The Obama administration has taken some hits for being less than aggressive on this matter, but Holder and the Justice Department is investigating a number of police departments in the nation, placing them under consent decrees.
Rep. Charles Rangel was among the first elected officials to respond to Lynch’s confirmation. “I applaud the Senate’s confirmation of Loretta Lynch to succeed Attorney General Eric Holder. By allowing her to become the first African-American woman to hold the post, her confirmation is an historic occasion. As Dean of New York’s congressional delegation, I am exceedingly proud of Loretta Lynch’s service to the people of New York and have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead the U.S. Department of Justice in tackling many of the critical issues of our time. I look forward to working with her to advance civil rights and equality for everyone in America.”