NC native Lynch wins confirmation as US attorney general
Posted April 23, 2015
WASHINGTON — Loretta Lynch won confirmation as the nation's first black woman attorney general Thursday from a Senate that forced her to wait more than five months for the title and remained divided to the end.
The 56-43 vote installs Lynch, now U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, at the Justice Department to replace Eric Holder. Holder has served in the job throughout the Obama administration, becoming a lightning rod for conservatives who perceived him as overly political and liberal – he was held in contempt of Congress.
Lynch is a North Carolina native, but she received no home state favoritism, with Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis both voting against her confirmation.
Lynch, 55, is seen as a no-nonsense prosecutor and has wide law enforcement support. The issue that tore into her support with Republicans was immigration and her refusal to denounce President Barack Obama's executive actions limiting deportations for millions of people living illegally in this country. Questioned on the issue at her confirmation hearing in January, she said she believed Obama's actions were reasonable and lawful.
Democrats angrily criticized Republicans for using the issue against her, saying an executive branch nominee could not be expected to disagree strongly with the president who appointed her, but Republicans were unapologetic.
Announced GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said Lynch's comments rendered her "unsuitable for confirmation as attorney general of the United States. That was a shame."
Yet, after returning from the campaign trail to rail against Lynch on the Senate floor Thursday, Cruz was the only senator absent when the vote was called. He voted "no" on a procedural vote earlier in the day, which spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter insisted "was the vote that mattered." She did not explain why Cruz missed the confirmation vote, but an invitation on his campaign website showed he had a fundraiser in Dallas.
Still, Lynch won the support of 10 Republicans, more than expected in the days heading into the vote. In a surprise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, was among those voting "yes."
From the White House, Obama hailed her confirmation.
"Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy," he said. "She will bring to bear her experience as a tough, independent and well-respected prosecutor on key, bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform."
Durham church 'jubilant' over confirmation
Lynch grew up in Durham, the daughter of an English teacher and a minister. Her father, Rev. Lorenzo Lynch, 83, watched from the Senate visitors' gallery Thursday as his daughter won confirmation.
Afterward, he told reporters: "The good guys won, and that's what's been happening in this country all along, even during slavery."
Members of White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, where Lorenzo Lynch used to preach, said they plan to put up a bulletin-board display at the church in her honor.
"One other thing we plan to do is I sent her a congratulatory letter with some pictures, and I invited her, when and if she comes to Durham, which I'm sure she will, to visit her old church," James Carney said.
Mary Thomas, Loretta Lynch's former Sunday school teacher, described her as curious and a good student.
"I always would have thought she would be something because of the way she was in the Sunday school class," Thomas said. "I could see her being the president of the United States.
"Now, we have a black president and a female as the attorney general, and that will allow our black children know that you can do anything you want to do," she continued. "All you have to do is strive, work hard and move forward."
Church members said they were frustrated by the delay in her confirmation.
"It’s just ridiculous to take so much time to put it to a vote," said Sue Jarmon, who has known Lynch since childhood.
"She’s well qualified to carry on the job, and for them to linger because she is a female – this is what I felt like – and also because she’s black," Thomas said.
Dems blast GOP for tardy vote
The long delay in confirming Lynch since she was nominated in November incensed Democrats, with Obama himself weighing in last week to lament Senate dysfunction and decry the wait as "crazy" and "embarrassing." There were various reasons for the delay, most recently a lengthy and unexpected impasse over abortion on an unrelated bill to combat sex trafficking that McConnell insisted on finishing before moving to Lynch.
Yet Democrats controlled the Senate when Lynch was nominated last November and could have brought up her nomination for a vote then. They held off with the GOP's encouragement after being routed in the midterm elections and spent the time confirming judges instead.
There was an expectation that Republican leaders would move Lynch's nomination swiftly this year, especially since many GOP members of Congress are eager to be rid of Holder. Instead, the nomination became tangled in the dispute over Obama's executive actions on immigration, and seemed to stall.
There was never any real doubt that she would win confirmation in the end, but going into the vote only five Republicans had declared their support. In addition to McConnell, the Republicans who ended up voting "yes" were Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Ayotte, Portman, Johnson and Kirk all face voters next year.
In a statement, McConnell said Holder's Justice Department "has too often put partisan and ideological considerations ahead of the rule of law. It is a department desperately in need of new direction and leadership. I am hopeful that Ms. Lynch will use her lengthy professional experience and skills to provide the new leadership, reform and improved relations with the Congress."
In floor debate ahead of the vote, Democrats lambasted Republicans for opposing Lynch on immigration.
"What my colleagues are saying today is it doesn't matter if you are qualified ... that makes no difference. We have a new test. You must disagree with the president who nominates you," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. "This defies common sense."
"She is the first attorney general out of 82 attorneys general to be filibustered and have to wait this long," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. "That is wrong. That is wrong. The Senate is not working as it should, and it's wrong."
Yet in the end even the Senate's hardliners on immigration refrained from trying to drag out the final vote into Friday.
Burr said he doesn't have confidence that Lynch would "ensure the independence" of the Attorney General's Office. Tillis said he voted no because of her support for Obama's "unconstitutional executive amnesty plan."
Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, said Tillis and Burr brought "shame to themselves and their offices" by voting against Lynch.
"Rather than proudly introducing her and her family, who have given so much to the cause of Justice and Love in North Carolina and the nation, Senators Burr and Tillis chose to vote against her because she was going to carry out her duties to be the top law enforcement official for all," Barber said in a statement.
Lynch has been the top prosecutor since 2010 for a district that includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a role she also held from 1999 to 2001. She'll take over a Justice Department focused on fighting terrorism and cyberattacks, and consumed in a national debate over law enforcement's treatment of black men.
"On top of decades of experience at the highest levels of law enforcement and a sterling track record, Loretta Lynch brings a passion and deep commitment to public service befitting of the high office she's about to attain. She will make an outstanding attorney general," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.