- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared Loretta Lynch on Thursday to be the next attorney general, virtually guaranteeing she will be confirmed in the full Senate next month, even as Democrats intimated GOP opposition was tinged by race.

Mr. Lynch, who is black and U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, has won widespread praise for her work as a prosecutor — but has suffered by comparisons to current Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and because she declined to distance herself from President Obama’s claims of unilateral executive powers, which have angered Republican lawmakers.

“The senate cannot confirm someone to this post who’s going to support and advance a scheme that violates our Constitution,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, who said the vote was part of “a constitutional tipping point.”

Democrats also saw the vote as just, though said it was a major test of how far the country had come since its founding on issues of race and civil rights.

“This is the first African-American woman in the history of the United States who would serve as our attorney general. This is a solemn, important and historic moment for America,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “It is unfortunate that as we celebrate events that took place 50 years ago in the cause of civil rights we can’t join unanimously here on a bipartisan basis and celebrate this civil rights achievement.”

Ms. Lynch was approved by the committee on a 12-8 vote, with three Republicans joining in backing her: Sens. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

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Mr. Graham said Ms. Lynch convinced him she is committed to pursuing the fight against terrorism, and said despite his own disagreement with Mr. Obama over immigration, he will count on the courts to solve that dispute.

“We can yell and scream all we like, but the courts are the right place for this to be resolved,” said Mr. Graham, who is considering a bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. “I’m sorry the Senate’s so dysfunctional, I’m sorry the president created this mess, but I’m not going to add to it.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, though, said Ms. Lynch squandered a chance to earn a higher vote by refusing to show a willingness to be an independent law enforcement officer willing to stand up to Mr. Obama. Mr. Grassley voted for confirmation of Mr. Holder in 2009, and said he now believes that was a mistake, and he was unwilling to repeat that mistake with Ms. Lynch.

“The question for me from the start has been whether Ms. Lynch will make a clean break and take the department in a new direction,” the Iowa Republican said. “I remain unconvinced that she will lead the department in a different direction.”

During her confirmation hearing and in more than 500 answers to written follow-up questions, Ms. Lynch carefully avoided hot spot battles. But she did say she thought the Justice Department’s legal brief finding Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty to be legal was well-reasoned, and she doubted she would rescind it.

After a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction, finding Mr. Obama’s policy likely broke the law, Republican senators who supported Ms. Lynch followed up with a question to her asking if she would follow the injunction. She assured them she would.

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who voted against the 2007 confirmation of Michael Mukasey for a disagreement over views on interrogation techniques, said Republicans were wrong to vote against Ms. Lynch over immigration policy.

“She may disagree with you about the president’s immigration policy, and I have to say I disagree with you as well,” Mr. Whitehouse said. “I’m not asking you to change your opinions about the president’s immigration policy, but I do think there is something fundamentally unfair about punishing another person for holding a different view than your own.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who did vote for Mr. Mukasey, said Republicans are being hypocritical in their opposition because Mr. Mukasey was similarly evasive in answers to key questions in 2007, including Mr. Schumer’s own questions about an immigration backlog and voter intimidation.

The senator said GOP objections to Mr. Obama’s immigration policies should be left to the judicial branch to sort out, and shouldn’t tarnish Ms. Lynch.

“The place for this battle is in the courts,” he said. “Political fights over immigration should not hold up Loretta Lynch, DHS funding or anything else, especially at this crucial and delicate time.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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