Updated 6:40 p.m.
President Obama has settled on the chief federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, Loretta Lynch, as the nation's next attorney general.
The White House said late Friday that Lynch was the president's pick to replace the departing Eric Holder, confirming a selection that CNN first reported earlier in the day. By choosing Lynch, Obama is bypassing a pair of candidates with more senior roles in his administration in favor of a prosecutor who could, potentially, be more easily confirmed by a Senate that Republicans will soon control.
"Ms. Lynch is a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. attorney’s offices in the country," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. Obama will announce her nomination in a Roosevelt Room ceremony on Saturday.
Lynch is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which covers Brooklyn along with Queens, Staten Island, and parts of Long Island. She has served twice in that post—initially during the end of the Clinton administration—and was confirmed unanimously by the Senate both times. But a promotion from federal prosecutor to leading the entire Justice Department would be a big bureaucratic leap, one that according to The New York Times has not occurred in nearly 200 years.
Latino lawmakers and advocates have pushed hard for Obama to nominate his Labor Secretary, Thomas Perez, who had previously led the Justice Department's civil rights division. But most Republicans opposed his nomination to the Labor Department, and his elevation to attorney general would likely have provoked another contentious confirmation fight. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, already smarting over the president's decision to delay executive action on immigration, formally endorsed Perez for attorney general last week.
Another frequently-mentioned contender had been Donald Verrilli, the solicitor general. Verrilli is best known for arguing the Obama administration defense of the Affordable Care Act in 2012, and his association with the law likely would have generated opposition from some Republicans. Late last month the former White House counsel and a close adviser to the president, Kathryn Ruemmler, took her name out of the running for the attorney general's post.
The timing of Obama's choice was another important question. The White House had said he would nominate Holder's replacement soon after the election, but officials had not said whether he would push the Senate to confirm his choice in the brief lame-duck session before Democrats hand control over to Republicans. The GOP has called on Obama to allow the new Congress to consider his nomination, and within minutes of the CNN report on Friday, Senator Ted Cruz renewed that demand in a Twitter post. The president leaves for a week-long trip to Asia on Monday.
It's not clear how Republicans will react to Lynch, but by choosing her Obama is deliberately be picking someone who has no political ties to himself and is largely outside the polarizing debates of Washington. President George W. Bush took a similar path in 2007 during the last two years of his second term, when he chose a senior federal judge from New York, Michael Mukasey, to replace Alberto Gonzalez as attorney general. The Democratic-led Senate confirmed Mukasey by a vote of 53-40.