WASHINGTON – The highly politicized five-month battle to choose President Barack Obama’s next attorney general came to a close Thursday when the Senate finally voted to confirm Loretta Lynch. The 56-43 vote makes Lynch the first African-American female attorney general in U.S. history.
Lynch’s nomination was historic from the beginning: she’ll be the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general.
But the delay of her nomination neared record-breaking proportions. Republicans leading the Senate refused to bring her nomination up for a vote until Democrats cut a deal on abortion language in an unrelated bill. That legislation passed Wednesday, setting up Thursday’s vote and ending the latest partisan Washington standoff.
President Barack Obama tapped Lynch to replace Attorney General Eric Holder in November and her nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. Still, she waited longer than the seven most recent U.S. attorneys general combined for a vote on the Senate floor, after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted on first finishing work on an unrelated bill.
At least six Republican have said they will vote for her — Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. That means, with the votes of the 46 Democrats, she should win the 51 votes necessary to be confirmed.
A two-time U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Lynch takes on the high-profile job at time when America faces a series of challenges, from dealing with strained relations and deep distrust in some cities between the police and the communities they serve, to criminal justice reform, to confronting the ongoing threat of terrorism.
Lynch has some experience with the latter: the Eastern District of New York has tried more terrorism cases since 9/11 than any other office. In announcing her nomination in November, Obama praised Lynch for successfully prosecuting the terrorists who plotted to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank and the New York City subway.
Lynch, 55, has earned a reputation as a highly qualified, but low-profile prosecutor who has a good relationship with law enforcement and a history of handling tough cases well.
She is a good listener and a skilled consensus builder, qualities that will help her succeed at Justice, said Tim Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia who served under Lynch on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, a group that meets regularly to advise the Justice department on policy matters.
“In that [attorney general] job you are at the center of so many of the emerging, significant, pressing issues not only in this country but around the world. There’s probably no job in government as diverse and challenging as being attorney general of the United States,” Heaphy said. He added that building support for initiatives both within and outside the department is an important part of the job.
“She will be good at getting people to work well together. I think that’s a strength of hers. I saw that on the committee,” Heaphy said.
Lynch’s portfolio will include addressing voting rights, white-collar crime and policy reviews, as well as public corruption, an area in which she has vast experience.
Obama called his pick tough, fair and independent, and said anyone would be hard pressed to find a person more qualified for the job.
“She has spent years in the trenches as a prosecutor, aggressively fighting terrorism, financial fraud, cybercrime, all while vigorously defending civil rights,” he said back in November. “Loretta might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists and still has the reputation for being a charming people person.”