After months of waiting for a vote, Loretta Lynch’s confirmation will finally come to the Senate floor this afternoon. President Barack Obama formally nominated Lynch after the midterm elections, and Democrats passed up the chance to hold a confirmation vote while they still controlled the Senate, preferring to use their expiring grasp on power to push for their budget goals instead. Republicans refused to hold the vote until Democrats stopped attempting to get back-door federal funding for abortions in the human-trafficking bill. The vote itself on Lynch might be a bit of an anti-climax:
Republicans have praised Ms. Lynch’s work as the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y, but criticized her defense of Mr. Obama’s plan to bypass Congress and shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. She was approved by the Judiciary Committee in late February, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) delayed her confirmation vote until the Senate resolved the abortion dispute and passed the trafficking bill on Wednesday. …
Ms. Lynch’s confirmation will end Mr. Holder’s tenure as attorney general, which was marked by pitched battles with congressional Republicans. Despite those battles, Mr. Holder, who plans to return to a private law firm, became one of Mr. Obama’s longest-serving cabinet members.
Early in the administration, he was rebuffed by Congress in his efforts to empty the controversial prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and bring the suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to trial in New York City.
He has been criticized on the left for not filing criminal charges against bank executives following the financial collapse, and on the right for extracting record-setting multibillion-dollar settlements from big banks for their roles in the economic crisis.
However, there may still be some drama left in the Lynch saga. She’ll have the unanimous support of the Democratic caucus but will need five Republicans to carry her over the top. At the moment, as CNN notes, that’s precisely all she has:
At least five 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 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.
None of these five seem ready to reverse themselves on their announcement, not even Lindsey Graham, who’s launched a long-shot bid for the GOP presidential nomination. If one of them withdrew (or maybe didn’t show up?), there are still a dozen or so who have not committed one way or the other on Lynch, and it’s possible that one or more will come down in favor of confirmation. Let’s assume that the five Republicans will be all she gets, though, but one of them changes his/her mind at the last minute. That would prompt a phone call to Joe Biden to make an appearance — assuming he’s not already planning to wait in the wings today — and cast the tie-breaking vote in favor.
That’s probably the extent of the potential drama, though, and even that seems unlikely. So what comes next? McClatchy’s Michael Doyle and William Douglas argue that it only will get tougher for Lynch after this, in part because of her lack of large-scale executive experience:
Lynch, for all her strengths and prosecutorial skills, has no experience managing a bureaucracy as large as the Justice Department. As U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, she’s been responsible for a staff of about 170 attorneys and 150 support personnel.
The Justice Department, by contrast, has about 116,000 employees worldwide and an annual budget exceeding $27 billion. Simply managing the business of incarceration through the Bureau of Prisons, an area Lynch has little direct experience with, accounts for about one-third of the department’s overall budget.
Cabinet secretaries typically delegate day-to-day management tasks. Lynch must be careful, though, not to be caught short by a small scandal that can quickly metastasize into a career-consuming cancer. Recall, for example, how an obscure Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gun-running operation called Fast and Furious blew up into something big.
I’d disagree with this take. While nothing prepares someone to take the reins of an organization this large for the first time, managing 300 people isn’t exactly being a weekend supervisor, either. It’s enough to give an executive a sense of what to personally manage and what to delegate, and how to shepherd resources effectively.
The bigger problem will be Eric Holder’s legacy on Capitol Hill, and Holder’s priorities in the DoJ. Doyle and Douglas expect Lynch to improve on the former and stay the course on the latter, which means we’ll end up with the same problems for the next two years that we’ve had in the previous six. Small wonder Republicans didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for setting Holder’s termination date.
Update (AP): And then there were six.
Ayotte says she'll vote aye for Lynch for AG Is sixth GOP senator to back Lynch. Ayotte up for re-election next year.
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) April 23, 2015
Update (Ed): Lynch passed the confirmation vote, 56-43. No big surprise. I’ll update with the Republican ayes when we see them. Meanwhile, the Associated Press offers a fair assessment of the controversy in the vote:
Her confirmation was delayed for months for a variety of reasons, most recently a lengthy dispute over abortion on an unrelated bill to address sex trafficking.
Lynch boasts strong credentials and a reputation as a no-nonsense prosecutor, but many Republicans opposed her because of her support for President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Accurate and succinct.
Update (Ed): McConnell was an “aye,” too:
Mitch McConnell just voted to confirm Loretta Lynch.
— jennifer bendery (@jbendery) April 23, 2015
I happened to be listening when that vote was recorded, just before it closed.
Update (Ed): Here are the ten Republican ayes, courtesy of Steven Ertelt:
Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) joined Senate Democrats in approving her nomination.
It’s worth noting that Johnson, Kirk, and Portman are expecting tough challenges in their upcoming re-election bids. With the confirmation a foregone conclusion, they may have decided that discretion was the better part of valor.