Loretta Lynch had a lot to prove before her nomination for attorney general could make it to the Senate floor—chiefly that she is not like Eric Holder, the man she'd be succeeding.
She withstood lengthy lines of questioning at a two-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at the end of January, and her nomination passed the committee Thursday in a 12-8 vote to send the confirmation to the Senate floor. Despite initial Republican opposition and a months-long battle to prove her commitment to fostering a renewed relationship with Congress, the Senate is expected to approve her nomination.
"I will be myself, Loretta Lynch," the nominee said at a hearing last month.
Three Republicans senators—Orrin Hatch, Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham—voted for the nomination.
Initial opposition stemmed from GOP criticisms of Holder and of the Obama administration's policies, particularly the president's unilateral actions on immigration. Obama nominated Lynch to succeed Holder in early November. But Republicans have since held up her confirmation as a consequence of President Obama's immigration programs to provide temporary work permits and deportation deferrals to more than 4 million undocumented immigrants, actions the GOP say are lawless and unconstitutional.
"I've been here for 40 years, and no attorney general—no attorney general—has ever had to wait this long for a vote," Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's ranking member, said at Thursday's Judiciary Committee executive session.
Lynch is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, a position she has held since May 2010. She oversees federal criminal and civil investigations and cases. She would be the first female African-American to hold the attorney general post, if confirmed.
Hatch fiercely defended Lynch's prosecutorial record during Thursday's executive session, saying the case against her has ignored her professional career. He blasted a Feb. 19 letter sent from at least 50 House Republicans to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging a vote against her nomination to "register your disapproval with this administration's persistent, lawless conduct."
"That is ridiculous on its face," said Hatch, a former Judiciary Committee chairman.
But Lynch will serve as the top law-enforcement officer in America, Sen. Jeff Sessions said, and an attorney general is required to uphold the Constitution.
"They must be willing and able to tell the president no if he overreaches," the Alabama Republican said.
And that's why Sen. John Cornyn was one of the few who voted against Holder's nomination, saying he was afraid Holder would cater to the administration's politics rather than serving as a check on the president. Lynch has stoked that same fear in the Senate majority whip, and he votef against her nomination for attorney general.
After a federal judge in Texas put a temporary hold on Obama's immigration actions earlier this month, several Republican senators sent a letter to Lynch asking if she would follow the court injunction and commit to applying it nationwide. Lynch said she yes to both, according to Flake. The Arizona Republican voted in favor of Lynch's nomination even though he said he doesn't agree with all her positions. He said he was impressed with both her resume and her experience.
While Democrats and some Republicans argued that the nomination shouldn't be embroiled in a political battle over immigration, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said Lynch would have received more support if she had demonstrated more independence from the president, like newly confirmed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter did.
"I suspect Ms. Lynch will be confirmed," Grassley said, "but I doubt she'll garner 93 votes in support of her nomination. And to the extent her support isn't as broad as Secretary Carter's, it will reflect a reluctance to take the department in a new direction, and her unwillingness to identify meaningful limitations on executive power."