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Lynch confirmed as attorney general to Iowa senators' ire

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | APRIL 24, 2015 5:00 AM

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After a five-month delay and an abortion-related scrum, Loretta Lynch was confirmed as the next U.S. attorney general on Thursday. She will be the first African-American woman to hold the position.

“I think it is always significant when we break barriers with regards to class, gender, or religion,” said Rachel Caufield, an associate professor of political science at Drake University.

The 56-43 vote will replace Attorney General Eric Holder, a frequent target of conservative ire and one of President Obama’s last original Cabinet members.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cast what was viewed as an unexpected vote in favor of Lynch. His decision to hold up a vote until a separate matter was resolved helped lead to the delay. Nine other Republicans broke ranks to join McConnell, including Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

Both of Iowa’s senators voted against confirming Lynch, which was in line with their previous statements. Sen. Chuck Grassley voted against Lynch when her nomination was front of the Judiciary Committee, on which six-term senator serves as chairman.

“After thoroughly reviewing that testimony, I concluded that she won’t lead the department in a different direction,” Grassley said on the Senate floor. “And that’s unfortunate. Because after six years of Attorney General Holder’s leadership, the department desperately needs a change in direction.”

During her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary, Lynch voiced her support for Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Ultimately, this and other stances led Grassley to vote against Lynch’s confirmation when it came in front of the Judiciary Committee.

Iowa’s junior senator, Joni Ernst, who was elected in 2014, also voted against Lynch. Ernst, like Grassley, was worried about the current U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York’s independence from Obama — especially when it comes to immigration.

“I have serious concerns with Loretta Lynch’s intention to uphold President Obama’s policies — especially executive amnesty,” Ernst said in a statement. “… I am not confident that Ms. Lynch will act independently from President Obama when the role requires it and therefore could not vote to confirm her as attorney general.”

Ernst’s characterization of “executive amnesty” is related to conservative views about Obama’s decision in November to expanded previous actions for people who have entered the United State illegally — specifically parents of U.S. citizens.

While the decision to push any confirmation to the new Senate contributed to the delay, so did questions about an unrelated piece of legislation effects on public funding for abortions.

The debate centered on legislation aimed at addressing human trafficking. While entirely unrelated to Lynch, McConnell vowed that no confirmation vote would occur until the bill was finished.

Despite passing the Judiciary Committee unanimously, the bipartisan bill was derailed after Democrats found what is called the “Hyde Amendment” in the final text.

The amendment is used on major appropriation bills to restrict taxpayer funding of abortions. Because the trafficking legislation would create some revenue through fines, the amendment was tacked onto trafficking legislation.

After senators reached a compromise on Wednesday, the bill passed 99-0, paving the way for Thursday’s vote on Lynch.

Caufield said that given how bad Holder’s relationship was with Republicans, it would be nearly impossible for Lynch’s relationship to not be better. Republicans once voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress. It was the first time Congress had used such a measure against a sitting Cabinet member.

“Congress’ relationship with Eric Holder was always a difficult one; it’s almost hard to imagine that it won’t improve,” she said and laughed.


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