The White House accused Republicans of “duplicity” Thursday in delaying confirmation of Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to be the next attorney general, turning up the heat even as GOP leaders said they were close to a resolution.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the delay in confirming Ms. Lynch, whose nomination was first submitted late last year, is evidence of the difficulty the president faces in working with Congress.
He accused six-term Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, of having misled the White House over Ms. Lynch.
“The sad part, I think, is that Sen. Grassley, particularly in his home state of Iowa, has cultivated a reputation as somebody who is true to his word. And I think the only conclusion I can draw from this astounding exchange is that it’s possible that Sen. Grassley has been in Washington for too long,” Mr. Earnest said in a stark attack.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, insisted Thursday that he will find a way to force a vote on Ms. Lynch, claiming tools that could put Republicans on the spot are available to any senator.
“I had a conversation today with a number of Republicans and told them really to get her done or I will make sure they will have an opportunity to vote against her,” the senator said on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow” show.
Republicans dismissed the tough talk. They said they were close to clearing the roadblock that has delayed Ms. Lynch and insisted Mr. Reid was overstating his powers.
Late Thursday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, predicted that the Senate early next week would clear a bill against human trafficking, then Ms. Lynch would get her vote and the Senate would move on to a bipartisan bill to impose a congressional review on any Iran nuclear deal Mr. Obama strikes.
Ms. Lynch’s nomination has become the outlet for a host of fights.
Many Republicans say her defense of the president’s executive actions on immigration make her unacceptable for a position that requires enforcement of the Constitution against executive power grabs. On Thursday Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, said Ms. Lynch also refused to agree to investigate former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a secret email server and account.
Republicans also are smarting over Mr. Reid’s use of the “nuclear option” last year to change the Senate’s filibuster rules and his use of the process to jam through dozens of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees.
Regardless, Ms. Lynch likely would have enough votes to be confirmed by the Senate, but Republican leaders have delayed action on her nomination until they finish a bill against human trafficking that Democrats generally support but are filibustering because of language prohibiting federal money to be spent on abortions in most cases.
Democrats acknowledged that they didn’t read the bill so they didn’t notice the language until the legislation reached the floor. Republicans have offered several compromises, but Democratic leaders have rejected them all, insisting that the abortion language — which cleared committee on a bipartisan, unanimous vote — be stripped.
Mr. Reid and his lieutenants object to Republicans’ efforts to put the Lynch nomination behind the trafficking bill, and the White House upped the rhetorical fight Thursday in its assault on Mr. Grassley.
Mr. Earnest said the senator was engaging in “an astounding display of duplicity” for saying this week that Democrats delayed Ms. Lynch’s nomination last year, when Mr. Grassley at the time urged the president to wait to nominate a candidate until after Republicans took control of the Senate in January.
He said Mr. Grassley’s actions are “Exhibit A” of why it’s hard for Mr. Obama to work with congressional Republicans.
Asked by a reporter whether his harsh comments would hurt the White House’s relations with Senate Republicans, Mr. Earnest replied, “Being nice has gotten us a 160-day delay. So, maybe after they look up ‘duplicitous’ in the dictionary, we’ll get a different result.”
Mr. Grassley, who has a reputation for independence and straight dealing, bristled at the attack on his integrity. His spokeswoman, Beth Levine, said the White House was “rewriting history.”
She said Democrats held 55 seats at the time Mr. Holder announced his intent to step down, and thanks to their use of the nuclear option to curtail filibusters, Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid could easily have forced Ms. Lynch’s nomination through the Senate last year.
“It was abundantly clear then — just as it is now — that Senate Democrats’ priorities didn’t include the Lynch nomination,” Ms. Levine said.
During last year’s lame-duck session, when Democrats had less than two months of control and a host of priorities stacked up, Mr. Reid chose to focus on confirming lifetime judicial appointments rather than pressing Ms. Lynch’s nomination. Democrats expected Ms. Lynch would be easier than the judges to confirm after Republicans took control of the Senate.
Ms. Levine said Mr. Obama could help solve the vote impasse by working on Democrats to relent on the human trafficking bill.
“Maybe at that point Senate Democrats would stop filibustering a bill that would help end sex slavery and human trafficking and the Senate could then turn to the Lynch nomination,” Ms. Levine said.
⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.